They will not comply.
Spurred by a new state law that expands gun-purchase background checks, a gun-rights group in Washington state is planning a weapons fair that will allow participants to buy, sell, and swap assault rifles and other firearms free from government oversight.
Organizers for the Arms Expo are billing the two-day event in Yakima County later this month as an act of armed civil disobedience, as well as a “patriot campout for the whole family.” By defying gun laws in such a brazen fashion, they also may be setting themselves on a collision course with state and local law enforcement.
“We’re drawing a line in the sand, and it’s their move,” Sam Wilson, a founding member of Liberty for All III%, the group behind the expo, tells The Trace. “I think their move will ultimately be to take a big step back.”
Since Washington voters in November approved Initiative 594 — which expands background checks to people buying firearms in private sales or exchanging them in a transfer — Liberty for All has railed against the measure with a series of high-profile, provocative protests.
In December, around 1,000 firearms enthusiasts — many bearing rifles and shotguns — descended upon the State Capitol in Olympia to denounce an unlawful American government. A month later, Liberty for All helped lead armed activists into the Capitol building itself, prompting lawmakers to ban the open carry of firearms inside legislative chambers.
Wilson says the group’s mix of fiery gun-rights rhetoric and “peaceful noncompliance” will be on full display at the Arms Expo, which will take place June 20 and 21 on private property outside Yakima. In addition to “constitutional” gun sales, which promise “no background checks, no paperwork, no infringement,” participants will be able to take part in survival and self-defense classes, ranging from how to build AR-15s to how to can food and butcher meat.
A handful of national activists also will be in attendance at the expo, including songwriter Jordan Page and Michael Vanderboegh, a cofounder of the Three Percent movement. “With the passage of this intolerable act, [Washington] firearms owners are truly ‘behind enemy lines,’” Vanderboegh, an Alabama resident who has traveled to Washington state twice already since the passage of I-594, tells The Trace. “It is the duty of all uncompromising firearms owners to stand with them in armed civil disobedience of such a hateful and patently unconstitutional law.”
Gun-safety proponents say they weren’t alarmed to learn of the event, and characterize the organizers as a part of a minority group of gun owners in the state. “The gap between reality and what these folks are operating off of has only grown in the last six months,” says Geoff Potter, a spokesman for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility. “It’s old-school militia rhetoric, and nobody is buying it.”
Whether the Arms Expo will attract the attention of law enforcement remains to be seen. A spokesman for the Washington State Patrol tells The Trace that the event did not fall under the agency’s jurisdiction. Calls to the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office went unanswered.
Liberty for All member Kit Lange says law enforcement will be prohibited from entering the event unless they have a warrant. Should police arrive, organizers will not tell participants how to act, she says, leaving it up to individuals to decide on an appropriate response.
“Let me ask you this: What would you have people do?” Lange says. “Allow tyrants to stomp onto private property and violate the constitutional rights of citizens?”
[Photo: Houston Gun Show at the George R. Brown Convention Center, 2007, Flickr user M&R Glasgow]