By Dave Workman
A draft proposal for expanding gun rights in Washington State has been unveiled by a veteran gun rights activist and lobbyist that is getting lots of attention from Northwest gun owners, and he says that the proposal could be modified specifically to address problems in just about any state.
Joe Waldron, legislative director for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and a veteran lobbyist for gun rights in Washington State as chair of that state’s Gun Owners’ Action League, shared the document with TGM. He presented the document to the Board of Directors of the Washington Arms Collectors, and other gun owners.
Waldron, who served for several years as CCRKBA’s executive director, is now headquartered in Florida, but still travels back to Washington during the legislative session. He told TGM that the draft proposal is just that: “Food for thought.” Even in draft form, it is quite a document that has been getting positive feedback from gun owners.
Washington recently reported more than 365,000 active concealed pistol licenses, making it one of the highest per capita states in terms of legal concealed carry among the more than 6 million residents. Washington is also an open carry state, with an active open carry movement.
What makes Waldron’s timing important is that the city of Seattle has seen a sharp uptick in homicides so far in 2012, up 500 percent from where the city was at this time last year. Compared to other big cities, however, Seattle is relatively safe, with 16 slayings as of Memorial Day, where there were only three at the same time in 2011.
With each of his 10 primary recommendations, Waldron does a detailed analysis, explaining the state’s situation and a bit of background. He does not limit the discussion to firearms, either. One of his major tenets regards assisted-opening knives, such as those produced by Kershaw in neighboring Oregon. Such knives are popular with police and shooters, but under some interpretations, they would be considered “switchblades.”
Washington has gun owners have long enjoyed minimum gun laws, with one of the more liberal concealed carry statutes in the nation, dating back to 1935. The state was a preemption pioneer, adopting the first statute in 1983 and strengthening it in 1985. Florida, believed by many to have ignited the roll toward state preemption expansion, did not adopt its law until 1987.
Gun control has not had much traction in the Evergreen State since the disastrous 1997 attempt by Washington Ceasefire to pass Initiative 676, which would have given Washingtonians the worst gun law in the nation. However, a combined effort by the National Rifle Association, CCRKBA, and an umbrella group WeCARE (Washington Citizens Against Regulatory Excess) mounted a statewide education effort. Several newspapers opposed the measure and law enforcement lined up against it. In the end, the initiative was crushed 71-29.
However, a series of Democrat governors and a Legislature controlled by liberal Democrats have not allowed pro-gun legislation to advance. Gun owners see a chance to change that in November, and they look at the next two years as being a window of opportunity. Thus, Waldron’s “road map” was born.
A “PROGRESSIVE” PRO-GUN ROAD MAP
The Washington state constitution contains one of the strongest right-to-keep-and-bear-arms provisions of any state. Article 1, Section 24 states: “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.” (The “armed body of men” clause was intended to prevent corporations from employing armed strikebreakers.)
In fact, in the mid-1980s the Washington State Supreme Court noted that the constitutional right to bear arms was stronger in our state constitution than that recognized by the U.S. Constitution.
For the past forty years the individual right to keep and bear arms — rarely challenged before then — has been subjected to an unrelenting series of attacks at the federal and state levels by a small minority who have the ultimate goal of banning possession of all or some classes of firearms.
In District of Columbia v Heller (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment affirms the right of the INDIVIDUAL CITIZEN, not subject to any militia service, to keep and bear arms. In McDonald v City of Chicago (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court extended that affirmation of the individual right under the Second Amendment to ALL citizens nationwide.
Befitting its history as a “progressive” state, the following items are proposed as a truly liberal (in the classical sense) and progressive agenda to reaffirm and expand the rights of Washington’s responsible, law-abiding gun owners.
1. SHOOTING RANGE PROTECTION
2. VOLUNTEER INSTRUCTOR CIVIL LIABILITY PROTECTION
3. DEFENSIVE FIREARM USE CIVIL LIABILITY PROTECTION
4. UNILATERAL RECOGNITION OF CONCEALED PISTOL LICENSES
5. FIREARMS PREEMPTION ENFORCEMENT
6. BRANDISHING STATUTE CLARIFICATION
7. ASSISTED-OPENING KNIVES
8. USE OF SUPPRESSORS IN HUNTING
9. DENYING FIREARM RIGHTS DURING AN EMERGENCY
10. FIREARMS REGISTERED UNDER THE NATIONAL FIREARMS ACT of 1934
Shooting Range Protection
Loss of safe shooting ranges, typically due to growth and encroachment, is a major concern of gun owners, and should be a concern to the public at large. Shooting ranges not only offer a safe place to shoot, but most also offer firearm safety classes, at low or no cost to the individual. 44 states have passed legislation protecting shooting ranges from nuisance lawsuits and other measures intended to close the range or limit their activities (“Well, yes, I heard the shooting when I looked at the home we were buying, but the realtor assured me the range was closing.”)
The Washington legislature has passed range protection legislation TWICE in previous sessions, only to have it vetoed by the sitting governor (Lowry and Locke) after heavy lobbying by range opponents. A range protection bill (HB 1508) passed the House of Representatives this year on a 93-5 vote, only to be arbitrarily killed in Senate Judiciary by the committee chair.
Volunteer Instructor Civil Liability Protection
Several not-for-profit organizations offer free or low-cost safety classes on a wide variety of topics, with instruction provided by volunteer, unpaid instructors, among them Red Cross first aid classes and firearm safety classes. These classes provide a clear benefit to the community at large, typically at no cost to the community. A significant out-of-pocket cost for these instructors is insurance coverage to protect from nuisance lawsuits. This cost, and the threat of lawsuits, discourages many knowledgeable and qualified individuals from offering their service.
Defensive Firearm Use/Civil Liability Protection
Washington state law is very clear in defining the circumstances when lethal force may be used in self defense. In fact, Washington goes farther than other states in providing reimbursement for costs of defense and other losses when an individual pleads not guilty by reason of self defense and who prevails with that defense at trial (RCW 9A.16.110). Washington also acknowledges that “The legislature recognizes that RCW 9A.16.040 establishes a dual standard with respect to the use of deadly force by peace officers and private citizens, and further recognizes that private citizens’ permissible use of deadly force under the authority of RCW 9.01.200, 9A.16.020, or 9A.16.050 is not restricted and remains broader than the limitations imposed on peace officers.” [1986 c 209 § 3.] Unfortunately, while a prosecutor may determine that the use of force was fully justifiable, or a jury finds the same, the “victim” (actually the perpetrator) can still sue the citizen in civil court for wrongful death or injury. If the citizen was acting within the law, he or she should not be subjected to such unjust lawsuit.
Unilateral recognition of CPL
Forty-nine states currently have some provision for licensed carry of a concealed firearm. Forty of those states recognize some or all of the licenses issued by other states. In 2004, Washington passed a fairly restrictive reciprocity law that — at this time — recognizes licenses issued by 12 other states. In comparison, eleven states recognize ALL licenses, and most other states with reciprocity laws recognize 25-35 other states’ licenses. The issue is not whether another states’ licensing provisions are a mirror image of Washington’s, but rather did the citizen comply with the law in acquiring a license. The person to fear is not the person with a pistol in one pocket and a license in the other, but the person with a pistol in one pocket and NO license.
Firearms Preemption Enforcement
Washington was one of the first states to pass firearms preemption (RCW 9.41.290) in 1983, limiting the regulation of firearms to the state legislature. By doing so, it eliminated a patchwork quilt of county and city ordinances that placed law-abiding gun owners at legal jeopardy as they traveled across the state. Unfortunately, some jurisdictions openly and knowingly ignore preemption, because there are no penalties prescribed, continuing to impose local ordinances. It is time that we put teeth into firearms preemption and hold those political subdivisions — and the elected officials who pass these illegal ordinances — accountable for their actions.
Brandishing Statute clarification
Along with 43 other states, Washington does not prohibit the open carry of a firearm, provided the person in possession can lawfully possess such firearm. RCW 9.41.270 prohibits the display of a firearm “in a manner, under circumstances, and at a time and place that either manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons.” The language “manifests an intent to intimidate” is fairly clear, and requires overt action on the part of the individual to show intent. The language “warrants alarm for the safety of others” is ambiguous and requires no inappropriate action or intent by the individual. In effect, “warrants alarm for the safety of others” is in the eye of the beholder (e.g. the complaining citizen or the responding police officer).
This language has been been used by some police officers to arrest an individual who is doing nothing other than lawfully carrying a firearm in a manner visible to others. Individuals have been charged, and convicted, of brandishing when no actual brandishing (threatening) has occurred. This section needs to be amended to require clearly inappropriate or threatening behavior on the part of the individual.
As a gang activity control measure, Washington and many other states passed “switchblade” laws decades ago, banning the possession or carry of knives whose blades opened by spring pressure after the push of a button. Since that time, a whole new genre of knives have been developed that fall under the “switchblade” definition, but that have wide legitimate application. A knife can be a valuable tool, in some cases a life-saving tool. And under extreme circumstances, the individual may not have both hands available to open a conventional knife. Assisted-opening knives are widely used by police officers, emergency technicians and military members. Once again, this is a ban based not on anti-social behavior, but the simple existence of such devices.
Hunting with suppressors
Exposure to loud and sharp noise can and does lead to significant hearing loss. This fact has long been recognized by the shooting community, and most ranges require hearing protection while using their facilities. But hunters in the field are operating under different requirements, including the requirement to hear game — and other hunters — moving in covered terrain. Firearm suppressors (silencers) have always been legal to own in Washington (and most other states), subject to passing a federal background check and payment of a $200 federal transfer tax. But up until last year, Washington law prohibited their USE. In its wisdom, in 2011 the legislature repealed the restriction on the use of lawfully-possessed suppressors. No prohibition should be placed on the use of suppressors in the field while lawfully engaging in hunting or related activities.
Emergency Powers gun ban
RCW 38.52 empowers the governor and certain local officials to suspend the rights guaranteed under Article 1, Section 24 of the constitution, specifically the right to lawfully possess firearms and ammunition outside the home during a declared state of emergency. This fails to recognize that the potential threat of disorder may be significantly greater during an emergency, limited law enforcement assets will be critically overcommitted, and protection of life and property will fall more heavily on the individual citizen. Citizens may be required to draw food, water and other supplies from a centralized distribution point, and are at great risk of having these life-sustaining supplies stolen while returning home.
In 1934, Congress passed the first federal gun control bill, the National Firearms Act of 1934. NFA 1934 imposed severe controls on fully automatic weapons, on rifles and shotguns with short barrels (rifles under 16″, shotguns under 18″), on suppressors (“silencers”), and on certain other classes of firearms or weapons classified as “destructive devices.” Recognizing the unconstitutionality of passing an outright ban on any of these, Congress imposed a $200 federal “transfer tax” on such firearms and devices, effectively ensuring such weapons would stay out of the hands of “average” citizens. In addition to paying the $200 tax, a citizen wishing to purchase such a firearm or device must undergo a comprehensive, fingerprint-based background checck by the federal BATFE. At this time, a quarter million automatic weapons are lawfully possessed by U.S. citizens.
Washington passed an outright ban on the possession of automatic weapons (with a couple of vary narrow exceptions) decades ago. It was legal to possess short-barreled rifles and shotguns in Washington until 1994, when the state legislature slammed that door shut. (Existing owners were grandfathered, as were the small number of individuals owning automatic weapons; there is no record that any of these federally-registered firearms have ever been used in Washington in a crime). Most states allow these firearms, and there does not appear to be a problem with their misuse. It’s time to restore FULL firearm rights to Washington’s law-abiding gun owners.