It was the most peaceful armed resistance in memory, as scores of gun owners and activists crowded the Oak Harbor City Council chambers to show their support of gun rights before the council repealed an ordinance that prohibited firearms in city parks.
It was a victory for the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, where Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb is delighted. He has been to court once on this issue, defeating the City of Seattle, and he was prepared to repeat that process with Oak Harbor. Fortunately, polite but determined firearms owners and cool heads on the council – and on the shoulders of Mayor Scott Dudley – prevailed.
Gun owners at WaGuns.org are talking about it with enthusiasm.
Among them were open carry activists including Nick Smith from Tacoma and Jim Beal of Federal Way. Smith, openly carrying a pistol, even spoke at the meeting, which became necessary after a YouTube video from the Jan. 15 council session showing Councilman Rick Almberg abruptly leaving when he could not prohibit retired veteran Lucas Yonkman from being armed in the chambers.
That video went viral, drawing national attention to Oak Harbor, a quiet town of about 25,000 on Whidbey Island. Northwest activists exercised their First Amendment right to address the council, and they showed up with handguns and one man even had an M1 Garand slung on his shoulder.
The fracas actually began last fall when SAF’s Gottlieb, as part of a two-state pilot project to encourage cities and towns to clean up ordinances that are in conflict with state preemption laws. In December, the council tabled an effort to repeal the old parks ordinance, and last month, when Yonkman showed up to complain about it.
At that time, the disabled vet acknowledged he was armed, and Almberg tried to push a motion to prohibit firearms in the council chambers. When that failed, he immediately departed.
This fight is hardly over, and it might be said this was the end of Round 2, with Seattle’s failure to dance around state preemption being Round 1. The next round will be fought either in Olympia on the ballot this fall if Seattle anti-gunners push an initiative to repeal Washington’s model preemption law.
This much was signaled by a motion from Councilman Bob Severns to act on the ordinance, and to declare a legislative emergency to protect public property and public peace. The motion was seconded by Almberg. Severns referred directly to SAF's "threat" to sue the city and individual members of the council.
Gun prohibitionists get frustrated when they cannot win a legal argument in court or prevail in the legislature, so they sometimes turn to the public initiative, realizing they might be more successful waging a campaign of emotion rather than fact. This is how anti-hunters managed to ban hound hunting for black bears and mountain lions in Washington and California.
Oak Harbor anti gunners had also failed to get the meeting moved to a school building in an attempt to discourage gun owners from attending, and legally disarming those who did.
While pro-rights speakers dominated the public comment period, there was another side, perhaps best represented by local resident Shane Hoffmeyer. He noted that the current situation was not conducive to citizen participation. He asserted that some hateful, derogatory and downright threatening e-mails had been sent, and that many citizens were afraid to be at the meeting.
Another resident, Pam Fick, who spoke to this column earlier, urged the council to appeal to the State Legislature to amend the law and allow local cities to ban firearms in certain places.
Gottlieb had spoken to Mayor Dudley several days ago, and told this column that he has high regard for the mayor’s approach, which included recognizing the right of citizens to be armed even in public meetings held in public places. Gun owners who viewed the original video from Jan. 15 have also expressed support for the mayor.
There were suggestions that Almberg and another member of the council resign if they dislike firearms at public meetings. That didn’t happen, either.
Oak Harbor proved that armed citizens can gather peacefully in public, and that they have rights, too.