The Spokane City Council copied state restrictions on unauthorized private militias – or any group acting like one in public – into city law Monday night, allowing for the prosecution of violators in municipal court.
Though it does not create any new restrictions on top of what already exists in Washington, the council’s action allows city attorneys to review and prosecute alleged violations.
Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell, who has highlighted challenges to enforcing the state law, would be cut out of the process.
Barring a veto from Mayor Nadine Woodward, who has not yet commented on the legislation, the law will take effect in 30 days. Spokane city law will now mirror a decades-old, but rarely enforced, regulation in Washington State Law.
The law does not apply only to actual self-described militias, according to at least one legal analysis by Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.
Except for militias and military organizations recognized by the state, the law mandates that no one “shall associate themselves together as a military company or organize or parade in public with firearms.”
Violating the law is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or a jail sentence of up to 90 days.
Regulations on militias and paramilitary organizations seldom come into play, but saw a resurgence in interest last year after armed people lined streets in Spokane and elsewhere during Black Lives Matter protests.
Other cities in Washington saw a similar armed response by private citizens to protests in the summer, prompting a renewed scrutiny of the state’s laws regarding paramilitary groups. Some state legislators may look this year to buttress the existing regulations on militia and paramilitary organizations.