Gavin Seim believes that it’s self-evident that Washington state’s recently approved gun-control initiative is unconstitutional, which in turn means that the state’s citizens don’t have to obey its requirement of a background check for most gun sales. And he is organizing a rally – “We Will Not Comply” – at the state capitol in Olympia in mid-December to make their defiance manifest in a massive act of civil disobedience.
There’s one problem, however: None of the activities that Seim and his anti-gun-control cohorts say they will be engaging in on the Capitol steps is illegal on its face, even if people openly sell guns to each other there. And so, state police say, they wouldn’t be likely to arrest anyone for failing to comply with the new law – at least not right away.
Seim is a youthful “constitutionalist” from the central Washington town of Ephrata whose former career as a photographer has been overtaken by his new occupation as a “liberty speaker” – lecturing fellow “Patriots” about the Constitution and organizing events such as the Dec. 13 “We Will Not Comply” rally.
“Will you bow down and lick the boots of tyrants, or will you stand for the liberty of your children?” Seim asks readers at the rally website.
Seim’s new career appears to have been inspired by his brief run for Congress this year in Washington 4th congressional district at the age of 29. His candidacy gained no traction – Seim attracted only 1,462 votes, good for seventh place out of primary firled of 12.
He did, however, gain some publicity by provoking a confrontation at the Grant County Courthouse with sheriff’s deputies over the presence of a lockbox for gun users to store their firearms while conducting business at the courthouse. The county briefly considered filing criminal charges against Seim, though it did also obtain a lockbox.
Since then, Seim has embarked on a one-man crusade against supposed police oppression in rural Washington. This fall, a video that Seim made of himself chastising a police officer for conducting a patrol in an unmarked car went viral, making Seim something of a brief celebrity on the right. In the video, Seim can be seen pulling the officer over and threatening him with a citizens arrest.
Seim holds a relatively radical view of the meaning of the Second Amendment – shared broadly among his fellow “Patriots” – as providing citizens the absolute right to own any weapon they choose. He explained this to KIRO-AM radio host Jason Rantz during a Nov. 12 interview promoting the Olympia rally:
"The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution says that the right of the people, as you know, to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. That means – and we can go to the historical context, we probably don’t have time for that today, but you can trace this all the way back to the discussions when they were writing this – it means the government has no authority whatsoever to restrict our guns in any fashion whatsoever. Any gun law, except our Constitution’s, is void, it’s lawless."
Rantz pointed out the failure of Seim’s logic, noting that his interpretation would allow anyone to own any kind of weapon, including bazookas or missile launchers – and Seim essentially agreed, arguing that in fact Americans should able to own bazookas if they so choose. And he brushed away the objection that it would allow felons to continue to own guns.
Seim explained that the Olympia rally’s main purpose “is to send a very clear message to our representatives, to our legislators, to our judges, to our law enforcement, that I-594, because it violates the both the United States and the Washington state constitutions, it violates our rights, it is not law, it is void, it will not be followed. And we’re letting them know that if they cross this line, if they try to enforce this lawless law, that we’re not going to let it happen.”
He contends that gun rights are so deeply embedded that it’s OK to ignore the results of a democratic election and refuse to acknowledge the new law. “When the Framers wrote they said that all law that violates the Constitution is void,” he told Rantz. “So when it comes to our rights that are granted by the Constitution, those are inherent, those are natural, God-given rights. Those are our rights, those are our birthright, they belong to us, and no government or individual has the right or authority to take those away.”
Seim has written warmly about the prospect of “revolution”, saying: “We have the God given right to revolution. Why? Because we have a right to defend life. With it we have an obligation to prudence and principle. Honorable revolt is simply a defense from the lawless.” He later added: “We have the right and duty to use any force necessary against a lawless agency who has declared war on us.”
Seim told Rantz, though, that he sees the Olympia rally as a way to stave off civil war. “If we stand up now and assert that, if we let them know that we are here, we will not comply with this law, that’s how we void lawless legislation. And that’s how we do so peacefully, because we don’t want to get to a point where they’re coming to the door to take our guns, and let’s make no mistake, that’s where they’re going with this.”
The most immediate problem with Seim’s plan, however, is that nothing anyone will do on Dec. 13 will immediately break the law. The way the initiative was written, violations – which are misdemeanors on the first offense, and become felonies on succeeding offenses – only occur when a person selling a gun fails to complete the requisite paperwork within the allotted time.
Seim says that his fellow rally-goers will violate the law flagrantly at the rally: “It’s not hard since the law is so ridiculous. Hand a gun to a friend, buy a gun, sell a gun. You are welcome to do all of these things as you please.”
However, Washington State Patrol officials made clear that nothing planned for the event would be in itself illegal or provoke an arrest. “We don’t see handing a weapon to someone else as a violation of the law,” a spokesman said. “We don’t see that as a transfer.”
Seim has another problem with his rally: He didn’t obtain a permit for it, and another pro-gun group is planning a rally for the same day. The state official in charge of issuing the permits wrote back to Seim and explained that the conflict precluded his plans: “The place that you have indicated in the below map is taken by another group on this particular day and during the time you are interested in holding a rally. The group that reserved the space submitted a completed application with a specific location request.”
Seim responded defiantly: "First let's be clear. We are not asking for your 'authorization' and we're not 'applying' to the State. We are allowing them the opportunity to work with us. I did in fact clearly inform you we would be gathering on the main lawn right from the start and there was no doubt about where I meant. What I have outlined is what we ARE doing. … We informed you of the plan out of courtesy. You can work with us, or you can play games."
In the meantime, Seim has continued planning his event by rallying his troops with stirring appeals. “We stand for peace,” he wrote in a recent post. “But we will tear down this tyranny and if I must die for liberty, I will do it with principle and pride, counting myself among the lucky few who were there to see liberty finally stand.”