- Associated Press - Monday, January 19, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - The state House on Monday joined the Senate in prohibiting people from openly carrying firearms in the public viewing area located over the floor where lawmakers sit.

The decision was made Monday morning after a meeting between leaders from both sides of the aisle in that chamber, and also applies to openly carried knives. The House gallery rules will now include a line prohibiting “open-carried weapons such as guns, firearms, and blades.”

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said that the clarification of the current rule banning demonstrations in the public galleries takes effect immediately, and that security staff have been notified and will hand out the list of restrictions to people who show up with openly carried weapons.

“This is about how we operate within the House framework that allows us to get our work done,” Sullivan said. “This isn’t a question of Second Amendment rights. The fact that you can’t bring a sign into the gallery, although you have a First Amendment right of free speech … there are limitations. Within our rules, we believe we have the ability to restrict certain things that would distract from our ability to get work done.”

Sullivan said the attorney general’s office was consulted over the weekend regarding constitutional issues surrounding the decision.

“We believe that we’re on solid ground,” he said.

Bob Calkins, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, said earlier constitutional concerns that the patrol had have been resolved and that the agency will abide by the House and Senate’s chamber rules.

Calkins said that if someone openly carries in the gallery, they’ll be directed to leave, and if they decline, they will be subject to arrest for criminal trespass.

House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, said that while there will likely be ongoing conversations about the rule, for now, he said there is “reluctant agreement” from both him and others in leadership in his caucus on the issue.

“I don’t necessarily like the fact that we’re having to make this clarification, because I think it’s a common sense issue for most people,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate that some people took advantage of what may not have been a clarified piece of the rules. The question now is: Is everyone going to have to pay for this?”

The move by the House comes just days after a similar decision by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat who serves as president of the Senate. Owen announced Friday that he considered openly carried guns the same as any prop used for a demonstration, which is not allowed under each chamber’s rules.

Owen’s decision came a day after a dozen protesters went to the House gallery with their weapons after a gun-rights rally on the Capitol steps protesting a new voter-approved gun background check law.

People can still bring their concealed guns into the galleries, as long as they have a concealed pistol license.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee supports the decision by both the House and Senate, said spokesman David Postman.

Postman said the chambers “made a commonsense decision that’s going to make their members and the public feel better.”

Alan Gottlieb, founder and chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said in an email Monday that the move by the legislative chambers was “the result of a few stupid extremists on our side who not only handled their firearms unsafely, but made the hundreds of Second Amendment supporters at the rally look foolish.”

“Irresponsible actions get us bad results,” he wrote. “This kind of childish theater hurts our cause.”

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