They're Breaking the Law — and Getting Away With It
By Josh Farley (Contact)
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Gun-toting members of a firearms advocacy group took to Silverdale Waterfront Park on Sunday to protest a county ordinance that appears to be at odds with state law.
Kitsap County bans firearms from its parks, despite state law that allows gun owners to carry arms in the open in most public places.
County sheriff's deputies saw no reason to interfere with local members of the national organization Opencarry.org, which organized the Silverdale protest, Kitsap County Sheriff's Spokesman Scott Wilson said.
At Sunday's event, Opencarry.org members gathered for a picnic while wearing guns on their hips.
"We are aware of the provisions of state law with regard to right to carry," Wilson said. "And the group in support of this right generally knows the law surrounding these issues."
Opencarry.org's Kitsap members held a picnic a year ago at Long Lake Park in South Kitsap. Several deputies attended, and no arrests were made. Nor were any "criminal issues" reported, Wilson said.
That leaves some members of the organization wondering what purpose the ordinance serves.
"If they're going to not enforce it," asked Opencarry.org member Samuel Cadle, "then why have it on the books? It needs to go."
Cadle said he and other have urged the county to change the ordinance, to no success.
"It gets stonewalled," Cadle said, "and nobody ever hears from (county officials) again."
And thus the law remains on the books, although it has so far been ignored.
Kitsap County Deputy Prosecutor Chris Casad said his office would react to allegations of activists packing heat in county parks just as they do in other criminal investigations.
"If we receive information, we'll evaluate and determine whether or not a crime is provable," he said.
The city of Bremerton once had a similar ordinance, but recently changed it to reflect state law, assistant city attorney Ken Bagwell said. The city council voted to scratch language banning handguns in parks from the Bremerton Municipal Code.
City officials decided state law takes precedence over city ordinances, although Bagwell noted that there are some exceptions. Cities and counties can prohibit the discharge of a firearm at a park, for instance.
In a lengthy opinion in October 2008, state Attorney General Rob McKenna agreed with that assessment. State law preempts "a city's authority to adopt firearms laws or regulations of application to the general public, unless specifically authorized by state law," McKenna wrote.
For now, the ordinance lives on in Kitsap County and Opencarry.org will continue trying to call attention to what members believe is an illegal ban.
Wearing a gun at a park might raise eyebrows, but that's part of what Opencarry.org is trying to do, according to James Milner of Port Orchard, who wrote a letter to Sheriff Steve Boyer last year and posted it on the organization's Web site.
"... our purpose is to educate the public in general and the occasional ill informed Law Enforcement Officer, in particular, that the bad guys are not the only ones who carry guns," Milner wrote.