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Washington House approves banning guns at ballot-counting sites, school board meetings

By Alec Regimbal, SeattlePI

Washington state capitol building in Spring

Washington state capitol building in Spring

4nadia/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Lawmakers in the state House of Representatives signed off on a bill that would prohibit guns and other weapons at school board meetings and ballot counting sites across Washington.

The measure, which passed the Democrat-controlled chamber on a party line 57-41 vote, also bans openly carried firearms at local government meetings and election-related facilities, such as county election offices. Those with a concealed pistol license may still bring their firearm to those places as long as it remains concealed.

The measure now heads to the state Senate for consideration.


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Bill sponsor Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, said banning weapons from such places would make people feel safer.

“Local officials and election workers deserve to feel safe when serving their communities,” she said in a news release. “And all Washingtonians deserve safe participation in civic engagement without intimidation and fear.”

The need for such a law can be viewed as a symptom of the nation’s current political climate. School board meetings have become the latest ideological battleground in the COVID-19 pandemic, with often irate community members showing up en masse to protest pandemic restrictions in schools. A woman in Virginia was arrested last month after she told a panel of school board members that she would “bring every gun loaded and ready” if her children had to wear a mask in the classroom.

Elections offices have also come under more scrutiny since the most recent presidential election. Largely fueled by former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, conservative activists — sometimes armed — swarmed to elections offices during some of last year’s high-profile races to act as unofficial “poll watchers.”

Under Washington's House Bill 1630 it would be illegal to knowingly bring firearms — whether openly carried or carried with a concealed pistol license — and other weapons to school board meetings and ballot-counting centers. Openly carried firearms and other weapons would be prohibited at other election-related sites, such as elections offices, voting centers and student engagement hubs, and at local government meetings, like city and county council meetings.

Law enforcement is exempt from the restrictions, as are any security personnel hired at a location.

Violation of the law would result in a gross misdemeanor. In Washington, such crimes can result in 364 days in jail or a $5,000 fine, or both. Violators with a concealed pistol license would also have that license revoked for three years.

During floor debate on Monday, Republican Rep. Kelly Chambers said the measure unfairly targets those who have concealed pistol licenses and “hampers their ability to defend themselves.”

“It makes the rest of the community less safe when we continue to chip away at the areas in which these law-abiding citizens are able to carry their weapons in a concealed manner,” she said.

Firearms are already prohibited in several places statewide, including courtrooms, taverns, commercial airports, mental health institutions, correctional facilities and most schools.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 


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Alec Regimbal is a politics reporter at SFGATE. He graduated from Western Washington University with a bachelor's degree in journalism. A Washington State native, Alec previously wrote for the Yakima Herald-Republic and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He also spent two years as a political aide in the Washington State Legislature.