By Jim McEntire
THERE’S BEEN TALK of post-election unrest, making me think about how to exercise our gun rights safely and wisely.
Don’t take the following analysis as legal advice, however.
The law isn’t written in language understandable by only a few. Read it here: leg.wa.gov/CodeReviser/Pages/WA Constitution.aspx.; and here: app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=9.41 and do your own research.
Open-carry is legal — but it has limits. Federal and state constitutions secure the right to keep and bear arms.
Our state constitution is more precisely worded, and limits the “bear arms” part to individuals.
Open-carry is discussed in RCW 9.41.270. It’s legal in any fashion (1) within one’s “place of abode or fixed place of business;” (2) for self-defense or for protecting others when there is an immediate threat; or (3) while making or assisting in a lawful arrest of someone who’s committing a felony. Unlawful open-carry is carrying in a threatening or intimidating manner in anything other than those situations.
In an emergency, any law enforcement officer can call for immediate assistance, or can be helped by an armed citizen if they are about to be overpowered (RCW 9.01.055).
Suppressing “riots, affrays, unlawful assemblies, and insurrections” is the County sheriff’s job (RCW 36.28.010(1), (2), and (6)). For riots in any of our three cities, sheriffs customarily won’t step in front of the local police department, even though sheriffs have jurisdiction throughout their county. Sheriffs commonly have concurrent jurisdiction inside federal lands, except in a tribal reservation or a military installation. The sheriff also can call on “such persons” for help “as they may deem necessary.”
For major riots, the governor can proclaim an emergency in the county(ies) affected (RCW 43.06.010(12)), direct the State Patrol to augment local law enforcement (RCW 43.06.270), and declare martial law in the same (RCW 38.08.030).
We well-intended, law-abiding gun owners are the good guys and need to be a part of the solution, and not a part of the problem. While open-carry is legal, sometimes it is not wise.
Think about open-carry from a law enforcement officer’s perspective. When they see a weapon (or several), especially in proximity to a large, boisterous demonstration, they are as concerned for their own safety as they are for protecting peaceful protests. If law enforcement has reason to see your open-carry as a threat, things will not end well for you. So don’t present yourself as a threat.
If you feel you have to show up at a lawful, peaceful assembly of folks with a gun, do it in a non-threatening manner and in a way that will prevent accidental tragedies. It’s better to do so while carrying a concealed handgun — assuming you have a concealed carry license (RCW 9.41.050(1)(a) and (b)). I recommend getting one.
Don’t believe everything you read on the internet or on social media.
Keep your hands away from your firearm. Use transparent eye wear. Leave your handgun holstered and sling your longarm at your weak side or on your back.
In all cases, position your firearm so your hands do not naturally rest upon it. If you and your friends decide to openly carry, stand separate from each other and not as a tight group. If the police ask you to move away from the demonstration, do so politely and quickly. The police are the good guys too.
Let’s not give any excuses to those who wish to further curtail our rights to keep and bear arms.
Jim McEntire is a retired Coast Guard officer, a former locally-elected official and a longtime member of the National Rifle Association.