Virginia gun owner militia open carry
Courtesy Jeff Hulbert

A bill under consideration in Washington State would make a group of at least three four people felons if they’re openly carrying a firearm…and someone feels alarmed by it.

The bill, HB 1283, makes it a crime if someone “acting with three or more other persons” … “openly carries, exhibits, displays, or draws any firearm…in a manner…that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons.”

You can read the full bill here to see for yourself.

What warrants “alarm for the safety of other persons” isn’t defined in the statute. The subjective nature of the bill’s language leaves whether to charge or convict based upon this law open to a lot of interpretation by police, prosecutors and the courts. Do you think there’s a chance that city dwellers who aren’t used to seeing holstered pistols or slung rifles might feel alarmed by the sight of four or more people walking by with firearms?

“One of the several issues that I have with this bill is it uses subjective standards…” said Rep. Jim Walsh, of the 19th district in a February 10th hearing. He proposed an amendment that would have made the bill more clear and objective, to focus on people who are actually making threats in order to avoid infringing on other people’s rights. His amendment wasn’t adopted.

Instead, the committee adopted an amendment that made the language mirror Washington’s “brandishing statute” including its tests and exceptions, but that isn’t very helpful when you consider that the brandishing statute can only be punished as a misdemeanor. This new bill, while applying only to groups, would make felons of people based on nebulous standards of other people’s feelings that a group couldn’t possibly plan around to avoid violating the law.

Mirroring the brandishing statute is worse when you look at the case law. In 1991, a man was “walking briskly” with a loaded rifle “on his shoulder” at night on a residential street, with his dog. A passerby told police about the man with a rifle, and found him carrying the rifle in “a hostile, assaultive type manner with the weapon ready.” But the case doesn’t make clear how the rifle was actually being held (if at all).

He was ordered to put the rifle down and was detained. The police officer found a pistol and a concealed carry permit on him, so he was obviously someone with a clean background.

He was charged with brandishing, despite not doing anything that actually threatened any specific person. He didn’t point the gun at anyone, threaten to shoot anyone, or even give anyone a dirty look. The original caller said he was looking down and avoiding eye contact with anyone…and that was used against him in court.

Under Washington’s brandishing statute, the man was charged with a misdemeanor, convicted, and appeals courts upheld the conviction, denying that the law is too vague. The court said . . .

This public interest in security, and in having a sense of security, outweighs the individual’s interest in carrying weapons under circumstances that warrant alarm in others.

In other words, if you’re carrying a gun in Washington and a “reasonable person” decides you’re frightening, you could be punished with a misdemeanor. Under HB 1283, if you’re in a small group, you could become a felon — and lose your gun rights — without harming or even threatening anyone, based strictly on someone’s feelings.

The legislation seems to be targeting armed protests. While there aren’t any cases of armed protesters (other than Antifa) getting violent in Washington, Democrats have long criticized the carrying of long guns and sometimes even pistols at protest events. Unless they happen to agree with the protesters.

Washington’s left-leaning lawmakers claim that merely by carrying firearms — which is perfectly legal in the state — protesters are threatening violence, trying to intimidate legislators, or want to instill fear in the public. Words like “terrorism” and “anti-democratic” get tossed around a lot with no real backing for such assertions.

With the gun control industry, the media (BIRM), politicians, and others stirring up the public against gun owners, especially in Democrat-run urban strongholds, it’s almost guaranteed that going armed in any size group would cause some allegedly reasonable person to conclude that you’re alarming. Even if just to sic law enforcement on gun owners.

You wouldn’t have to be a protester or “insurrectionist” to get tangled up by this law. If you were merely coming back from the range with three friends and stopped somewhere for a bite to eat and got too rowdy talking politics at the table, someone could get “scared”… and you’d all become felons.

This bill has no business becoming law. It’s obviously designed to be a de facto ban on open carry and wouldn’t enhance public safety in any way.

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