Sunday, April 26, 2009

Open Carry of Firearms in Washington

I try to leave my day job at the office, but sometimes I have to do it here. Bear with me, please: I left a comment the other day on Mickey Creekmore's blog recommending that persons in open carry jurisdictions be aware of the danger of being accused of brandishing a weapon. This led to some uncertainty over whether I believe the State of Washington to be an open carry state. Washington is an open carry state, but there are some pretty broad exceptions that a person should be aware of prior to openly carrying a firearm. If you do not want to have an unpleasant conversation with a police officer or, worse, being charged with a crime you were previously unaware of, do a little research. These issues are Washington specific, as Washington is where I practice, but the issues may apply to other states and hopefully pique the curiosity of others thinking about open carry. Don't get me wrong, I fully support open carry, but I am aware of the problems it might lead to.

Washington has a statute that prohibits display of a firearm in such a manner as to threaten others or which causes public alarm. Here is the text of RCW 9.41.270(1): (1) It shall be unlawful for any person to carry, exhibit, display, or draw any firearm, dagger, sword, knife or other cutting or stabbing instrument, club, or any other weapon apparently capable of producing bodily harm, in a manner, under circumstances, and at a time and place that either manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons. This has been interpreted by the Court of Appeals in State v. Spencer, 75 Wn.App. 118 (1994), review denied 125 Wn.2d 1015 (1995)) as not being overly vague and within the state's police powers, and was applied in that case to a situation where a rifle was openly carried, no threats were made or perceived, but a member of the public and, of course, the police were alarmed. This was affirmed by the Supreme Court in State v. Montana, 129 Wn.2d 583. I could not find a Washington case in the last fifteen years where the court applied this to a person openly carrying a handgun in a holster. (The Barker decision, 103 Wn.App 893, is distinguishable on several grounds). If you open carry in Washington, be prepared for police harassment and embarrassing discussions.

Washington has a statute that prohibits the carry of loaded firearms in automobiles. RCW 9.41.050(2): ((a) A person shall not carry or place a loaded pistol in any vehicle unless the person has a license to carry a concealed pistol and: (i) The pistol is on the licensee's person, (ii) the licensee is within the vehicle at all times that the pistol is there, or (iii) the licensee is away from the vehicle and the pistol is locked within the vehicle and concealed from view from outside the vehicle. So, unless you like to walk or have a horse handy, how are you going to accomplish open carry without driving to all those places it is legal to open carry? Maybe you will keep your ammo in the trunk and load your weapon after you exit your vehicle. Not a bad idea, unless someone sees you and thinks that you are the next Robert Stewart and you wind up in custody under RCW 9.41.270. Unless you want to park your car in out of the way spots so that you can clandestinely load your open carry piece without causing alarm, it is far more practical to just get a CCW and carry concealed.

Washington prohibits the carrying of firearms in a number of other instances. Schools, school transportation, or any area being used by schools. RCW 9.41.280. Any place that serves alcohol (applies to area excluding minors), and other restricted areas identified by statute. RCW 9.41.300.

Keep in mind that local standards may apply. Carrying an SKS rifle on your shoulder may not alarm anyone in Kettle Falls, Washington, but doing so while walking your dog in King County will get you arrested. (See State v. Spencer, above).

I will admit that I don't know all of the twists and turns of Washington law with regard to the open carry of firearms. I apologize for the lack of links for the cases cited. These can be accessed for free at If a person has questions, I advise consulting with an attorney in your specific jurisdiction and in any local jurisdiction in which you intend to open carry. Open carry is indeed legal in Washington, but only do so with forethought and knowledge. To proceed otherwise is to risk making a major, unintended lifestyle change.

Just my two cents, and my sincere thanks to TheOtherRyan at Total Survivalist Libertarian Rantfest for his input and suggestions.


  1. First and foremost sorry if the "missed the memo" thing seemed to be a jab, it certainly was not intended that way.

    I would not be worried about getting charged for intimidation/ carrying a weapon in a threatening manner for walking down the street or whatever with a holstered firearm. Some aggravating circumstance needs to be present; one of the training bulletins gave the example of getting into an argument and coming back to continue the argument with a pistol on your hip.

    The prohibition on carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle (without a permit) is the real problem. I would not be too worried about getting charged in the first law for loading said gun at your trunk in a discrete manner. It seems like saying "I was loading my pistol IOT open carry because it is illegal to have it loaded in my vehicle" would prevent you from getting charged but it could become a real pain in the butt. You can have a weapon in a vehicle with a permit but that takes away almost all of the benefit of OC.

    As for the other assorted prohibitions (schools, bars, etc) they are what they are but should not be a big obstacle to open carrying.

  2. No offense taken. Seems that you and I actually agree on most of these things. A person has to balance the ostensible legality versus the inconvenience of public and law enforcement opinion. I enjoy the rapport. Keep in touch.