OAK HARBOR, Wash. — Pro gun activists poured into Oak Harbor City Hall Tuesday night to speak out against a councilman who tried to ban guns from city meetings.
It was standing room only inside council chambers, and many attendees proudly announced they were carrying weapons. The men and women turned out to tell the council the city’s gun ban in local parks is illegal and the attempt to ban guns at City Hall is out of line.
After hearing from residents on both sides of the issue, the council concentrated its focus on the rule of law. State law specifically blocks cities from banning guns, and Second Amendment supporters have already threatened to sue.
With those facts in mind, the council voted to lift the ban.
Oak Harbor was thrust into the national spotlight two weeks ago with an Army veteran named Lucas Yonkman.
Yonkman almost always carries a concealed handgun on his hip, and he brought his gun to an Oak Harbor City Council meeting last month to talk about lifting the ban on firearms in city parks. He also sparked a disruption that soon became national news.
After Yonkman told the council he was carrying a gun last month, Councilman Rick Almberg proposed a vote to ban guns at public meetings. When that motion failed, Almberg walked out of the meeting.
“I feel like that is abandoning your post, so to speak. (Almberg) was there to do a job,” Yonkman said.
That’s not how Almberg sees it. The councilman said he’s also a gun owner, but doesn’t think council chambers is a place for armed citizens.
“I do not believe that they should be in there, even though it’s lawful, and I still stick by that position,” he said.
The whole debate traces back to a letter from the Second Amendment Foundation to Oak Harbor’s city council and mayor. The letter said the city’s ban on firearms in city parks and the marina is out of compliance with state law.
“We really need to handle this issue with the city parks, and the fact that the city is not in line with Washington State law,” Yonkman said.
Last month’s walkout touched a nerve around the nation and led to a stack of emails and letters in the mayor’s office.
Mayor Scott Dudley is critical of Almberg and other councilmembers for demanding on-the-spot gun restrictions at City Hall. He also said they can’t be legally enforced.
“I think you have a councilmember overstepping his bounds and exercising power this councilmember doesn’t have,” Dudley said.
Almberg did have his supporters at Tuesday’s meeting.
“More guns in more hands in more places didn’t make people safer, it just made people more dead,” said Pam Flick.
When the vote was cast, Almberg stood his ground and voted to keep the ban. He said he doesn’t regret his headline-grabbing walkout, but he wants to move on from it.
“This issue has been a little bit of a diversion to the big things that we have to do,” he said.
Supporters of the ban say they’ll urge state and national leaders to loosen rules so cities can decide gun laws for themselves.