Packing crowd packs City Hall in Oak Harbor

OAK HARBOR, Whidbey Island — It was not a sight seen before at the City Council meeting in this town of 22,000: guns, lots of them.

At least a dozen people, mostly men, came openly carrying pistols strapped to their belts.

An unknown number had concealed weapons, as an overflow crowd of 160 filled three rooms at City Hall on Tuesday night.

They saw the City Council unanimously repeal an ordinance that bans guns from city parks and the marina.

State law allows guns in these locations, and the pro-gun Second Amendment Foundation had threatened to sue if the city’s rules remained at odds with the state’s.

But the overflow crowd was really here after a YouTube video went viral showing what happened at the Jan. 15 council meeting during which guns were the topic.

The video shows Lucas Yonkman, 28, a partner in a local construction firm and an Army vet who served in Afghanistan, speaking before the council.

“I’m a professional with a weapon. I carry a weapon every day, for the purpose of protecting people,” Yonkman said. “The American people should be very careful about messing with the Second Amendment …”

That was when Councilman Rick Almberg, 68, a retired contractor, and himself an Army veteran, asked Yonkman whether he was carrying a weapon.

Yes, replied Yonkman. “I have a concealed-carry permit, and I am concealed-carrying at this moment. I would hope that people felt comfortable with that, due to the fact that I am a trained professional with a weapon. …”

Almberg then moved that the public either check their guns with the police or leave the meeting. The motion lost 4-2, and Almberg walked out in protest.

On Tuesday night, a number of gun-rights advocates unsuccessfully called for the resignation of Almberg and the other councilmember who voted for the motion.

Almberg said he didn’t see the point of allowing guns at council meetings, and, he said, such a display would “bully” those not carrying them.

It’s an issue that councils in other cities have grappled with.

In his December 2012 newsletter, Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess writes:

“The Seattle City Council can regulate the size of the signs people carry into Council Chambers for safety reasons, but we can’t prohibit firearms at Council meetings? Nonsense.”

A good portion of those attending the Tuesday meeting in Oak Harbor were gun owners, including Nick Smith, 44, a Tacoma retail consultant.

In his holster he had a SIG 239 semi-automatic pistol.

“I think that apathy is something to be rejected,” Smith said about coming to the council meeting.

He said he’s had to use a gun in self-defense only once. That was when a “vagrant” came up to his car, and after being turned down for money, “he started grabbing the window and door violently.” After Smith put his pistol on his lap, he said, the vagrant “decided he had better things to do.”

The public-comment period of Tuesday’s meeting was limited to 30 minutes, and there were a few people who spoke for gun control.

One of them was Shane Hoffmire, 28, an Oak Harbor man who works in building maintenance. He and his wife have a 7-year-old son.

A little nervous, he had written out his statements.

“Should assault rifles really be allowed on a playground where our children are playing?” he asked.

On Tuesday night, here in Oak Harbor, the answer was yes.