Guns should be banned throughout Washington Capitol, not just in Senate gallery.
The Washington Senate’s presiding officer took a sensible step toward ensuring public safety this week by expanding the ban on guns in the Senate gallery in Olympia.
Now the rules proposed by Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib should be applied to the entire Capitol building, which would probably require the Legislature to pass a law. Leaders of the House and Senate can restrict guns in their own chambers, but state law includes no gun restrictions for public spaces like the rotunda.
For public safety and security, no one other than law enforcement should be carrying weapons into the state Legislature or other government buildings, including lawmakers. Washington is one of 23 states that allow guns in their statehouse buildings, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Three others allow lawmakers to carry guns inside.
Gun incidents of any kind are a rarity in the state Capitol, according to the Washington State Patrol. Earlier this year, a report of gunfire on the Capitol campus locked down government buildings but was unconfirmed.
Nothing in state law prohibits guns in other parts of the legislative building, although openly carried guns are not allowed in the House gallery and meeting rooms, and visitors to the Capitol are not required to go through a metal detector or any other screening before entering the building.
Former Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who had jurisdiction over only the Senate chamber as Habib does now,banned openly carried guns in the gallery above the Senate chamber in 2015. Habib’s new order expands the ban to include concealed weapons. Gun rules for the whole Capitol building — which also houses the offices of the governor, the secretary of state, the treasurer and the lieutenant governor — need to be updated.
A ban would better protect government officials and the schoolchildren and other citizens who visit the Capitol to observe or advocate.
Lawmakers should consider banning guns in other government buildings and installing metal detectors near the entrances to the Capitol. Habib has asked the Senate’s sergeant at arms to look into the cost of installing metal detectors near entrances to the Senate. Better to improve the safety of the entire building.
Guns have their place in American society, but they are not needed in our state Capitol, where professional security officers and the State Patrol are prominent and don’t need any help from the public.