The mayor of Oak Harbor, Wash. has revealed to Examiner that he will revive a discussion about the city’s illegal prohibition on firearms in city parks at a Feb. 5 city council meeting, and he will not back down from what could be a political and philosophical donnybrook.
At issue is political correctness and anti-gun hoplophobia versus state law and constitutionally-protected rights. The Oak Harbor case is something of a microcosm of the national divide over gun rights.
Mayor Scott Dudley anticipates a standing-room-only audience at the meeting because of a recent video showing a verbal confrontation between a local resident who acknowledge he was legally armed in the council chambers, and an anti-gun city councilman. Lucas Yonkman, an Oak Harbor native who was disabled by an IED explosion while serving with the Army in Afghanistan, touched off the incident when he testified against the city’s ban.
Councilman Rick Almberg was so upset that Yonkman was armed that he first proposed a measure to ban firearms from council meetings. When that failed, he left the meeting. This happened even after the city attorney advised Almberg that Yonkman was under no obligation to reveal whether he was armed.
The nine-minute video has spread across the Internet over the past few days, making Dudley something of a hero for speaking out in support of a citizen’s right of privacy, and the right to keep and bear arms.
The issue first came up in December, weeks after the Second Amendment Foundation sent a letter to the city explaining that its parks gun ban was in violation of Washington’s state preemption law. It was part of a two-state pilot project launched by SAF and discussed by this column to advise local governments about local laws that may be in violation of state preemption or the constitution.
In Oak Harbor’s case, the parks gun ban violates state statute. That law was upheld last year in a lawsuit SAF filed against the City of Seattle, in partnership with the National Rifle Association, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Washington Arms Collectors and five private citizens. The statute dates back almost 30 years.
Mayor Dudley told this column in a telephone interview that when SAF’s letter was received in October, “Our staff did the right thing.”
“We quickly identified the mistake,” he recalled, “and we realized we are (in violation). We brought the issue forward to the council on Dec. 18 for an opportunity to correct this.”
But instead of correcting the error, the issue was tabled with Almberg leading the way, according to the Whidbey News Times. He reportedly acknowledged, “I know we are not consistent with state and federal law, but I’m not going to sit here and say it’s okay to carry guns in our city parks.”
The newspaper said Almberg had an ally in Councilman Joel Servatius, described as “a former member” of the NRA who is “not comfortable with people being able to carry guns around in places packed with children.”
Almberg and Servatius may find themselves in the company of several armed citizens when the council meeting convenes on Feb. 5. This column tried to contact Almberg via e-mail but he did not respond.
SAF Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb spoke with Dudley and is sending the city a second letter that will apparently suggest that SAF may take legal action against the city. SAF and its colleague organizations beat Seattle at trial and again at the State Court of Appeals. The State Supreme Court declined to review the case at Seattle’s request, so the gun rights victory stands, and puts the teeth of court precedent in the preemption law.
Mayor Dudley is not happy with the anti-gun council members. He said that Almberg has “forgotten what his job is and who he represents.”
“A couple of (council members) believe they are going to try to exercise power that they don’t have,” Dudley observed. “They’re trying to do a job that they have not been elected for. It’s sad to see; very disappointing.”
He also asserted that Almberg was grandstanding to make a political statement.
It might also be illegal for the council to willfully defy a state statute, particularly after that statute was upheld by a major court case involving Seattle.
“The city council cannot ignore (this),” the mayor said. “It could put us into a situation where we would have to pick this up in a court of law.”
Court precedent strongly suggests Oak Harbor would lose, and in such a case, it might have to reimburse SAF for its legal expenses in addition to paying its own legal bills.
While gun rights activists on two popular forums, Defensive Carry and Northwest Firearms might think at least one Oak Harbor councilman is already a loser, they think Mayor Dudley is a stand-up guy. Several are planning to be in Oak Harbor in two weeks to tell him personally.