Guns would be prohibited in more WA public places under new bill

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Washington lawmakers are considering a new proposal to prohibit weapons, including firearms, in more public spaces in the state.

Under the legislation, public libraries, zoos, aquariums, parks, transit stations and state or local public buildings would be added to the list of designated areas where weapons are prohibited.

Senate Bill 5444 is sponsored by Sen. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle, and co-sponsored by five other Senate Democrats.

Valdez noted that he introduced the bill because he wanted to continue the work in the Legislature to keep communities as safe as possible and to reduce gun violence.

“We’ve made progress over the years such as prohibiting weapons in schools, government buildings, airports, polling locations, (and) courthouses, but we know we have so much work to do,” Valdez told committee members. “Our public needs to know that we are taking every step we can to keep them safe from gun violence.”

The bill had a public hearing in the Senate Law and Justice Committee Monday, with 17 people signed in to testify in opposition to the bill, and nine people signed in to testify in support.

However, more than 1,000 people signed in opposed to the legislation on Monday, but did not testify, while more than 800 people signed in to support the legislation, but did not testify.

Walla Walla County Sheriff Mark Crider testified against the legislation with several concerns.

For one, he said, the law would be nearly impossible to enforce. Additionally, Crider said that most of the prohibitions would affect places where firearms are already prohibited, such as courthouses.

Crider said the bill does not address those who are carrying lawfully concealed weapons, including those who are carrying under the Federal Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act and not carrying under Washington concealed carry laws.

The Sheriff added that the prohibition on knives is tricky too.

“Being on the eastern portion of the state, almost everybody in my community carries a knife for daily use,” Crider said.

Others spoke in favor, including Neal Black, a council member for the city of Kirkland.

He said that one of his fundamental duties as a council member is to maintain a comprehensive system of public safety.

“I take that duty seriously, and believe me, so do my constituents,” Black said.

He said he was appreciative of previous safety efforts by the Legislature, which allow him as a council member to respond when certain safety improvements are needed.

“We can take all these measures to create a bubble of reasonable safety around a park, school or playground and that bubble can be pierced in an instant by someone walking up with a handgun or rifle, with no law against it,” Black said. “Quite literally I can keep cars out of places where kids play, but not guns.”

Black also argued that the bill does not implicate the state or national constitutions, both of which, he said, recognize reasonable limitations on time, place and manner.

In Washington, it is currently a gross misdemeanor for knowing possession of a weapon in designated areas such as courtrooms, or areas used for court proceedings, bars, and restricted access areas of public health facilities and commercial service airports.

Violators of the newest proposal would be subject to a misdemeanor, which carries the possibility of up to 364 days in jail and a fine up to $5,000.

The bill defines weapons as “any firearm, explosive, or any weapon usually known as a slingshot, sand club, or metal knuckles; or any knife, dagger, dirk, or other similar weapon capable of causing death or bodily injury and is commonly used with the intent to cause death or bodily injury.”

Those with concealed carry permits are exempt.

If passed by both chambers of the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, the bill would go into effect 90 days after the adjournment of session.

The state legislative session adjourns on March 7.