Bellingham, Wash. - John Laigaie is a retired military man who has always carried a handgun on his hip. "It's my job, it's what I do," he said. "I protect myself and my family." He's also a gun rights activist who firmly believes in his constitutional right to bear arms. So when a Bellingham police officer challenged him for doing just that at Bloedel-Donovan Park, he argued with him.
Laigaie knew that Washington is an "open carry" state where it is allowed. He even offered the officer, Allen Bass, a copy of that law when Bass asked for his identification. When Laigaie refused to hand over his ID, he said the officer pulled out his own weapon and pointed it at him. "A couple of times, he had it right in my chest and that was 6, 7 inches from muzzle to flesh," Laigaie said. Laigaie demanded that the officer put the weapon away. "I wasn't breaking the law, I was well within the law and he had no right to do that. I don't like being bullied," he said.
Laigaie said he never touched his own gun, just continued to clutch the leashes of the dogs he was walking. He said everything calmed down after two other men in the park approached the pair, and told the officer that carrying a holstered weapon in Washington was legal. Laigaie filed a complaint against the city claiming his civil rights were violated. As part of a civil settlement, Laigaie was awarded $15,000. He was also told that all police officers and 911 dispatchers in the city will be trained in open carry laws.
The Bellingham Police Department declined our request for an interview. A spokesman for that department did relay word from the chief that his department has already done the training, and that it will continue on an ongoing basis.
There are some areas where people are not allowed to be armed. They include:
- Areas of a jail, or law enforcement facility.
- Courtrooms, a judge's chambers or a jury room.
- Public mental health facilities or bars.
- Restricted access areas of airports.
- Firearms aren't permitted in school buildings.
There are exceptions for law enforcement officers.