Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib issued an order last week that bars the public from carrying firearms into the state Senate viewing galleries. It takes effect when the Senate is in session starting Jan. 8.
As presiding officer in the Senate, Habib cited employee safety in his decision and said a Senate rule lets him maintain decorum and order in the chambers.
The Democrat, elected in 2016, also wants cost estimates for installing metal detectors at the doors to the galleries.
Certainly there is no sensible reason for carrying guns in the state Capitol. This is especially true in the viewing galleries where the public can perch and watch their lawmakers vote below. State House leaders should consider following suit.
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In his letter to the Senate sergeant-at-arms outlining the request to bar firearms from the galleries next year, Habib wrote that “particular emphasis should be placed on preventing assault weapons from being brought into the galleries.”
One misstep by Habib might have been the suddenness with which he announced his decision. Gun rights groups and a conservative Republican senator said Habib’s order was illegal.
Sen. Phil Fortunato, a Republican from Auburn, said he learned of the decision from news sources. In a letter he send to Habib, Fortunato argued that the state Constitution does not specifically list the Legislative Building among places – including courthouses, jails and mental institutions – where firearms may be restricted.
Fortunato also made some reasonable points about the unknown practicality of enforcing the no-guns rule. Habib should take the time to answer them.
Of course, if Fortunato and allies remain convinced the action is unconstitutional, they should go to court. If they win in the judicial arena, Fortunato and his allies deserve to lose in the court of public opinion. And Habib, assuming he could get the funding, could up the ante by installing bullet-proof glass at the edge of the Senate balcony.
If anything Habib’s action should spur debate over reasonable limits on those carrying or displaying guns in public places such as the Legislative Building.
In the end, the Senate and House are places for political action and discourse, just as churches are for worship. No one should feel the need to carry weaponry — concealed or otherwise — to witness or participate in this lawmaking process, and no one should feel intimidated that others are armed.
The House and Senate came to the conclusion three years ago that visitors must not openly carry guns into the galleries, although individuals may carry firearms into the Legislative Building. Habib's order instructing the chamber's sergeant at arms clearly builds on that policy.
It wasn’t that many years ago that anyone entering the Legislative Building had to pass through a metal detector, although lawmakers and others legally carrying concealed weapons were allowed to bypass the machines. That method of security proved costly and was scrapped when lawmakers were making deep spending cuts as a result of the Great Recession.
Washington voters in recent years have also enacted initiatives that restrict gun show sales and provide for expanded use of protection order to disarm individuals deemed a danger.
That should be ample evidence that the majority of voters in our state want reasonable limits on firearms. Clearly they are sick and tired of absolutist claims by Second Amendment advocates who say that every public-safety limit on firearms is a new and outrageous infringement on their constitutional right to bear arms.
Bring it on. It's time to have this conversation.