Right to arms and free assembly under threat due to coronavirus

Restrictions in place due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus have limited citizens right to carry fire arms, or to free assembly.
Restrictions in place due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus have limited citizens right to carry fire arms, or to free assembly.

Monday night, the city of Edmonds Washington passed Ordinance 4177, removing the rights of citizens to carry firearms during a “declaration of an emergency.” This makes it illegal to carry firearms in Edmonds.

According to attendees, police came into the meeting claiming that the Governor had suspended the rules of open public meetings, denying the opportunity for citizens to comment or participate in government meetings such as the one held by the Edmonds City Council. The city of Bellingham Washington is considering enacting similar measures.

Two weeks ago, King County Washington Executive Dow Constantine, as part of his emergency orders, closed gun ranges in the county. Gun stores had remained open until Governor Jay Inslee’s closure of “non essential businesses,” as part of his “Stay at Home” order on Sunday evening. In Seattle, as well as Los Angeles, cannabis dispensaries are considered essential businesses and allowed to remain open, but the gun stores are ordered closed.

Gun stores across the country are grappling with the question of whether or not they are considered an “essential business” and allowed to remain open during the bans imposed as a result of the Coronavirus.

Questions remain, however, as to the constitutionality of banning the sale of firearms, as the owning of a firearm is a constitutionally protected right. According to meeting attendees, one council member in Bellingham disagreed with the ban, and stated during their meeting on the proposed firearm ban “My guess is these are constitutional. No Constitutional right is absolute. We all have the right to free speech… Same with firearms. The right is not absolute. These are extreme circumstances that do not violate the general principle of the right, but balance it against other people’s rights.”

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus and the mandated closures and bans, gun stores across the US have seen a spike in firearm and ammo purchases. Stores in King County Washington have attributed the run on firearms to an increase in the number of first time buyers. The gun store employees I interviewed told me that many of these first time buyers in Washington are “shocked” to find out there is are up to 10 day waiting periods after the purchase of a firearm and other restrictions on purchases as part of the recently passed I-1639 “…including requiring enhanced background checks, waiting periods, and increased age requirements for semiautomatic assault rifles.”

The employees went on to state that many of these first time perspective buyers admitted to voting for the initiative and that they “did not read or understand the restrictions they were placing on themselves.”

The spike in sales was reported even before what many view as extreme responses to the coronavirus were enacted by politicians. King County is preparing to release hundreds of prisoners to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Politicians in New York, California Ohio and elsewhere are working on similar measures. According to KOMO News: “Public Health Seattle-King County has recommended one inmate per cell instead or the normal double bunking to allow for social distancing. The goal is to reduce the population by 600 inmates. That would bring the jail population down to between 1200 and 1300 at both facilities combined.”

Recently, Seattle and King County decided to repurpose unused jail space as homeless shelters to help cope with the thousands of people living on the streets of Seattle. By releasing prisoners, critics of the jail repurposing plan have been given validation not just by the prisoner release but also by those who claim that the jails were only empty because of a “revolving door” justice system in Seattle and King County that regularly releases prolific offenders.

Seattle went a step further on Tuesday by alerting Seattle Police officers “…that the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention will no longer allow bookings for most misdemeanor charges due to concerns over the coronavirus.”

According to 770 KTTH host Jason Rantz: “Assistant Chief Steve Hirjak emailed officers Tuesday afternoon with the news that most misdemeanor bookings will no longer be accepted. The exceptions including Assault 4, DUI, restraining order/no contact violations, stalking, and communication with a minor.” This follows politicians in other cities in the US such as Philadelphia instructing officers to no longer arrest for what they consider “non violent crimes”

Seattle has also paused removal of homeless encampments, whose residents are frequently cited for rising crime in the Seattle area, including assaults. Residents of Seattle have reported on social media platforms like Nextdoor and Ring a noticeable rise in growing encampments, porch thefts and break ins.

In February, Democrats in the Washington State legislature lowered the punishments for intentional HIV infection. Seattle and King County have seen a rise in cases of HIV in homeless encampments as well as a rise in reports of people including police officers being pricked by used discarded needles in parks and on the streets.

Speaking anonymously to Jason Rantz, a Seattle police officer said in response to new directives that “Folks are on their own now,” the officer said. “SPD will be around, but don’t expect a response unless you’re being actively murdered. This is the biggest free pass given to criminals in years, and there have been many free passes doled out by [King County Prosecutor] Dan Satterburg and [Seattle City Attorney] Pete Holmes.”

“They might as well sound the purge alarms,” the officer said half-joking. With a revolving door justice system, an effort to minimize incarceration, a “revolving door justice” system of prolific offenders and a ban on the sale of firearms for protection, citizens are growing more concerned for the safety of themselves their loved ones and their property.

With empty streets due to closed businesses and people working from home, residents have reported an increase in property crime and vandalism on social media. Civilians are wondering what is the end game of the actions of politicians, are their constitutional rights being infringed and what their cities and society will look like when they emerge from their “stay at home” orders.