OLYMPIA — Following a tradition going back to at least the Whiskey Rebellion of the early 1790s, demonstrators gathered here Saturday afternoon at the Capitol to protest the tyranny of what they consider unlawful American government.
But instead of decrying a tax on distilled liquor such as Pennsylvanians did just years after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, demonstrators here at the “I Will Not Comply” rally denounced a law expanding gun-purchase background checks that was approved last month by Washington voters.
Initiative 594, which voters passed by a 19-point margin, expands background checks to people buying firearms in private sales or exchanging them in a transfer.
Since the 1990s, federal law has mandated background checks for people buying guns through licensed dealers at gun shops. But school shootings around the country have spurred tighter gun laws, some enacted by state legislators, or in the case of I-594, by popular vote.
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Speaking to the crowd, rally organizer Gavin Seim blamed events like the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut on people trying to regulate firearms.
“The people that are trying to take our guns are the ones that are causing events where children and families and people are lost,” said Seim, who ran unsuccessfully this year for U.S. Congress.
Washington State Patrol put the crowd at about 1,000 people; Seim estimated 1,500.
While on stage, Seim burned his state concealed-weapons permit and advocated that people should buy tanks and bazookas if they wanted them.
“If you want to own a bazooka, you can own a bazooka,” Seim said to cheers.
The crowd ranged from people with concerns over I-594’s language on what would constitute an unlawful gun transfer, to others who thought it was a step toward gun registration.
Others saw the law as an indication of America coming under the sway of a United Nations plan to strip the country of its freedoms.
Throughout the day, men young and old, along with some women, milled about with rifles and shotguns slung over their shoulders. Others, in military-style uniforms, one of which read Washington Militia, posed for photos.
When a speaker talking to the crowd mentioned Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who survived a gunshot wound to the head during a mass shooting and has since lobbied for stricter gun laws, many in the crowd booed.
At a booth sporting an LGBT pride rainbow design, demonstrators picked up rifles in what they said was an illegal transfer of a gun from one person to another under I-594.
But the State Patrol, which policed the event, had announced that it could not prove such an action violated the law and would not arrest people for handing firearms to each other.
There were no arrests or other issues during Saturday’s demonstration, according to Trooper Guy Gill.
Justice Cutrell drove from Forks, Clallam County, the rally. Cuttrell, 48, says she keeps guns for self-defense and worries that stricter gun laws would lead to gun registration.
“I don’t want to be put on anybody’s list,” said Cuttrell. “My guns were given to me by family and basically they’re unregistered. And I don’t think they should have to be registered.”
Others said they worried that I-594 was a symptom of a larger sort of creeping government overreach.
“My rights are being infringed, our Constitution is being trampled,” said Robert Henry, a 57-year-old truck driver who came from Chehalis for the rally.
Rep. Elizabeth Scott, R-Monroe, told the crowd she would co-sponsor bills in the upcoming session to both repeal and weaken I-594.
Scott said she also planned to co-sponsor a bill to allow people with concealed-pistol permits to carry weapons on school grounds, in hopes of deterring a shooting, and another to eliminate the sales tax on guns and ammunition. As she announced each proposal, the crowd lit up in cheers.
Opponents of I-594 and stricter gun laws will rally again at the Capitol at 9 a.m. Jan. 15, when lawmakers will be in town for the legislative session’s first week.
Tim Moses, an I-594 supporter who attended the rally, said the demonstration was in poor taste since Sunday is the second anniversary of the mass shooting that killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
“This is just disappointing,” said Moses, who has volunteered for Moms Demand Action, a group advocating for stricter gun laws.
Ammon Bundy, the son of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher involved earlier this year in a standoff with the federal government, was scheduled to speak but did not show.