Let’s have a serious discussion about safety | Sen. Fortunato

  • Thursday, December 21, 2017 5:30pm
  • Opinion

The presiding officer in the state Senate, Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, recently indicated that he would implement a rule to ban firearms in the public gallery of the Senate starting with the 2018 legislative session.

I challenged that move in a letter outlining my concerns with the lieutenant governor’s authority to make such a rule, the impracticality of enforcing the rule and broader concerns about the constitutionality of infringing on law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights. Since then, newspapers have editorialized their agreement with the proposed gun ban and even called for far more sweeping prohibitions on all legally-carried firearms at your state capitol.

With all due respect, I disagree with Lt. Gov. Habib and the newspaper editorial writers siding with him on this issue.

The impracticality of the ban should be reason enough to revisit this issue. We are talking about licensed concealed carriers following the law, many of whom you would never know are carrying. We have hundreds of visitors to the capitol every day. This alone presents logistical challenges that these leaders failed to consider. Will security search every person and their belongings? Are staff trained to conduct such searches? If a legal weapon is found, what will be done to safely ensure its storage? Does taking and returning the weapon run afoul of new weapon transfer laws? It isn’t as simple as by fiat saying no weapons in the Senate gallery.

What happens if visitors from afar aren’t aware of the ban? Must they leave their weapons unsecured in a car? That poses a serious safety concern, with vehicle break-ins on the rise in Olympia. Prowlers would now have a new opportunity to get their hands on guns they shouldn’t have, at the expense of those following the rules. How does that improve public safety?

We live in a changing world where knives, trucks, pressure cookers and pipe bombs combined with any radical ideology pose a real threat to public safety, especially in places like our capitol. If we need a change in policy to make the people’s house safer, then there should be a broader discussion with a more diverse group of stakeholders. It should not be hidden under the guise of procedural rules about decorum – the authority that the lieutenant governor has cited to implement this ban. As with many gun bans, this is symbolism over substance.

I am open to a sincere conversation about how to improve security on our campus, but the proposed blanket gun ban on lawful concealed weapon carriers is reactionary and fear-based, and will ultimately do nothing to improve safety. Just like the Legislature has come together to discuss policies around a safe work environment, we should also follow the processes in place to develop adequate tools that ensure the safety of those who work in and visit the legislative building.

I agree with the Lt. Governor’s statement in a recent interview that “he doesn’t get to interpret (Senate rules) to give himself some type of autocratic control over the chamber.” Ironically, that’s exactly what he’s done. Unfortunately, he has chosen to do so with one of our nation’s most fundamental rights.

Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, represents the 31st Legislative District. Reach him at 360-786-7660, or phil.fortunato@leg.wa.gov.

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