OLYMPIA — About 1,000 gun-rights advocates, many openly carrying rifles and handguns, rallied Saturday outside the Capitol to protest a new expanded gun background check law in Washington state.
Organizers of the “I Will Not Comply” rally promised to exchange and sell firearms without conducting background checks during the daylong rally in opposition to the state’s voter-approved universal background check law.
“We’re going to stand up for our rights,” rally organizer Gavin Seim said. “Our rights are not up for negotiation.”
Initiative 594 passed with 59 percent of the vote last month. Geoff Potter, who served as a spokesman for the pro-initiative campaign, said that the rally was “a very loud, but very, very narrow and unrepresentative view of what the people of Washington have clearly demonstrated they want on background checks and gun laws.”
At an I-594 “violation station” people posed with rifles that weren’t theirs, and a wedding party unaffiliated with the protest that was taking pictures on the Capitol steps got into the spirit.
Rally participant Brandon Lyons of Spanaway handed his AR-10 rifle to the groom, who posed with the rifle and his bride, then the best man held the firearm and mugged with the couple. The bride and groom, who were to be married later in Tacoma, wouldn’t give their full names.
“We’ve all just broken the law,” Lyons said after they took pictures with the rifle.
However, Washington State Patrol Trooper Guy Gill said “we’re not convinced that handing someone a gun is a violation of 594.”
The law, which took effect Dec. 4, requires background checks on all sales and transfers, including private transactions and many loans and gifts.
Opponents have taken most issue with the language surrounding transfers. I-594 defines a transfer as the delivery of a firearm “without consideration of payment or promise of payment including, but not limited to, gifts and loans.” Exceptions include emergency gun transfers concerning personal safety, gifts between family members, antiques and loans for hunting.
Capitol officials were preparing for up to 6,000 protesters, and Washington State Patrol troopers were seen on the periphery of the crowd.
Gill said there are no plans to arrest people for exchanging guns or even selling weapons, but they could forward violations they see to prosecutors.
“Our Number 1 priority is to just make this a safe environment for people to express themselves,” he said. “Most of these folks are responsible gun owners. We probably will not have an issue.”
Norma Johnson of Enumclaw said the law isn’t going to stop crime.
“You’re targeting the wrong things by going after law-abiding citizens,” she said.
Washington has joined six other states— California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York and Rhode Island, plus Washington, D.C.— in requiring universal background checks for all sales and transfers of all firearms, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
About a dozen other states have varying laws on expansion beyond what federal law requires.