OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A gun-rights rally drew about 50 people, mostly armed, to the steps of the Capitol on Saturday morning for a demonstration they hoped would end with their arrest. To raise money for bail, some protesters hawked caps with "Fight Tyranny — Shoot Back" printed on them and sold out.
The plan was to walk into the Capitol after a few speeches and carry guns into the Legislature's viewing gallery, in defiance of rule changes made in January that banned the open carry of firearms there. However, the Washington State Patrol kept the gallery doors locked after the building opened to the public at 11 a.m. The crowd, including two state legislators, walked through the marble hallways, with some lining up to knock on the doors to the House gallery and Gov. Jay Inslee's office.
No one was arrested, and the State Patrol reported no disturbances. The protesters went instead to the closed gate of the governor's mansion and prayed.
"What's the world coming to when there are people who want to break the law and they won't let you do it?" said Dave Grenier, 58, of Tumwater, as his fellow pro-gun demonstrators began to file out of the Capitol.
Their complaints against state government stem from the 2014 passage of Initiative 594 by voters statewide. It imposed new background-check requirements on several types of gun transfers, including purchases and loans, and opponents say the new law infringes on firearm rights guaranteed in the state and federal constitutions.
After protest rallies at the Capitol in December and January, leaders of the House and Senate prohibited the open carrying of firearms into the Legislature's viewing galleries. In the January rally, one protester among the dozen or so who carried guns into the House gallery was rebuked by the State Patrol for how he was holding his gun, and the ban was instituted days later.
Saturday morning's rally began before the Capitol opened to the public at 11 a.m. A few visitors waiting for guided tours of the legislative building mingled with the gun-rights advocates who clustered in the portico facing Washington's Temple of Justice to get out of the rain.
State Reps. Elizabeth Scott and Matt Shea addressed the crowd. Shea, R-Spokane Valley, gave a fiery speech that included a list of more than 20 grievances against the government, including militarization of police, high taxes, surveillance programs, Sharia law and restrictions on guns. Scott, R-Monroe, opened her coat to show the crowd her pistol.
"I carry at least one gun every day," Scott said, "because a cop is too heavy and a guard is too heavy."
For Eric Devenny, 19, an apprentice mechanic from Bremerton, the rally was his first trip to the Capitol. He wore an AKS-74, a variation of a Russian assault rifle, in a sling on his back as he walked with the group into the legislative building and out to the governor's mansion gate and said he'll return for another protest.
"It's not gonna stop, and we won't let up," Devenny said.