Bite of Seattle almost saw pistol-packing protests
In a city so filled with political activism that it’s almost passe, Seattle almost experienced a most unusual political demonstration at the recent Bite of Seattle: men walking around Seattle Center with holstered pistols, a practice known as open carry. Open carry is legal in Washington State and most of the US. But the would-be demonstrators eventually called off their appearance, which even gun rights activists in the state were critical of as being overly provocative, and went instead to Alki.
“A handful of these guys are exhibitionists,” says Dave Workman, senior editor of Gun Week , which is published by the Second Amendment Foundation , a Bellevue-based gun rights group. “They do themselves and the gun community no favors at all.”
The almost-event came at a time when Mayor Greg Nickels is expected to soon issue a controversial rule banning guns, including licensed concealed carry weapons, from city parks. At Folklife in 2008, Seattle Center was the site of a near tragedy when a gun belonging to a mentally-ill man with a concealed carry permit fired during a scuffle with another festival attendee. One bullet from the man’s Glock pistol hit three different people, although none of the injuries were life threatening.
Workman says that the open carry advocates have decided that since they have the right to open carry, then they are going to exercise that right lest it become void through disuse.
“I think that’s going to backfire against them” politically,” says Ralph Fascitelli, president of Washington CeaseFire , a local gun control group. “If the gun rights people are going to be overt about carrying their guns publicly, then people are going to be upset.”
Last week, one of the open carry group members posted to a forum on the opencarry.org website. Read the posting, in part: “I am trying to get a group together to open carry at Bite of Seattle this weekend at Seattle Center. It is a 3 day event so I was thinking maybe Sunday, but I am open to any day. If you are interested please contact me. Thanks. A right not exercised is a right taken away.”
Eric Miller, a Seattle open carry activist, says he and others decided against showing up at the Bite after checking in with Seattle police. “You always want to cooperate with the police,” Miller says.
Police explained to Miller that Seattle Center was actually leased to a private company for the event and that it had banned weapons on the site for the weekend.
Det. Mark Jamieson, an SPD spokesman, says police don’t encounter people doing open carry very often, but that the department expects to run into more in the future owing to a burgeoning open carry movement locally and nationally.
“Some individuals in certain groups want to push the envelope and say, ‘I have right to a firearm and I’m going to open carry’,” he says. “But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”
But Miller, who says he was a crime victim while living in California, defends the open-carry practice.
“Look, I’m safe 100 percent of the time,” he says. “I don’t have to wait seven minutes for police to respond.”
Miller says he gets “lots of positive feedback” from other Seattleites when he packs heat–a Beretta .45 caliber pistol in his case–and that locals who are scared of people like him need to get over their instinctual fear of guns.
SPD sometimes fields 9-1-1 calls from alarmed citizens when someone is spotted doing open-carry, says Jamieson, and that officers respond to assess the situation and check the gun owner’s identification.
Alex Fryer, a spokesman for Mayor Nickels, says that various city departments have finished their internal reviews of a possible gun ban on city properties and that the new rule is “burbling” through legal review. He says he expects the ban to be issued by Nickels “sooner rather than later,” although it’s not clear if the Mayor would enact the ban during his reelection campaign.
Fryer says the ban would cover city parks and possibly other city-owned properties.
The Second Amendment Foundation already has plans to sue the city in state and federal courts as soon as Nickels hands down the ban. Last year, Attorney General Rob McKenna’s office issued an advisory opinion on the possible Seattle ban and advised the city that such a ban would violate a state law that “pre-empts” local gun laws, making the state the only law-making authority on guns within state boundaries. AG’s advisories are non-binding, but are commonly given much deference by the courts.
Fryer says that some cities in Washington State have successfully banned guns in some public places, citing Kirkland and Buckley as examples. Gun rights advocates say that those bans came before the enactment of the state’s preemption law in 1983.
“You’d think that would’ve ended things,” says Workman of the AG’s opinion. “But somebody over there in the Mayor’s office is convinced they can trump state statute and the State Constitution.”
Fryer says that the city is convinced it’s on firm legal ground and that the public favors the ban, which would cover open-carry weapons as well.
“Our community feels parks are safer without guns,” he says.