Opinion

County park gun ban was unenforceable anyway

A quarter of a century after it was nullified by state law, Kitsap County’s ordinance banning the carrying of firearms in county parks has been amended to remove the invalid ban.

It seems strange the county would take so long to bring the county code into compliance with state law, especially since the law is the Legislature’s effort to define a right guaranteed in the state constitution.

Article I, section 24 of Washington’s constitution states: “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.”

State law “pre-empted and repealed” local ordinances that conflicted with its provisions many years ago, so the county ban has long been unenforceable.

Why did the county commissioners finally amend the ordinance this past Monday? A private organization’s demonstrations apparently prompted them to do it.

Last year and again this year, private individuals gathered at a county park openly carrying firearms — knowing the county ordinance was an invalid attempt to limit their right to bear arms.

County officials responsible for enforcing the law sought legal advice last year and, of course, learned (if they didn’t already know) the ban on carrying firearms in county parks was invalid.

Rather than endure occasional demonstrations by people who knew of the ban’s invalidity, the commissioners removed the offending language from the ordinance.

Ironically, it seems no one recalls any incident in the past that might have required an attempt to enforce the ban — other than the two gatherings to challenge the law’s validity.

Surely there were a few times when firearms were misused in county parks, but it would have been the misuse, not the mere possession, that was the problem.

Even though the ordinance has been amended, misuse of firearms is still prohibited; so in one sense nothing has changed.

People of a criminal bent wouldn’t have been deterred by a ban and until they misused a firearm nothing would have been done as a practical matter.

A person who intends to misuse a firearm isn’t likely to carry a weapon openly except at the moment of its intended use, so a ban would rarely prevent the criminal act.

What has changed, perhaps, is the probability that citizens may actually see someone in possession of a firearm at a county park.

Now that law-abiding folks won’t be deterred by signs posted in the parks, some of them may enter with their firearms.

Chances are good few would enter while openly carrying a firearm, since the same sensibilities that cause people to obey the law make them reluctant to scare the daylights out of their fellow citizens.

Those who genuinely feel the need to carry firearms for personal defense usually understand failure to conceal the weapon when it isn’t being used is likely to cause others to wonder about their judgment — or even their sanity.

That’s why they ordinarily go to the trouble of obtaining the required license to carry a concealed firearm.

Most of us, when we have a choice, rarely go where we feel so endangered we want to carry a firearm for protection.

So if we see someone carrying such a weapon, we naturally wonder what’s wrong. Have we wandered into a place we would rather not be, or is something the matter with that guy with the gun?

The ultimate irony in this situation is the private organization advocating “open carry” consists of people who want to change this reaction.

Their demonstrations prompted the change to the ordinance, but it seems unlikely many people will become accustomed to the sight of strangers with guns as they go about their daily lives.

At some places and times, it wouldn’t seem strange; but few would choose to live in those places or times.

BOB MEADOWS

Port Orchard

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