Several area women are attending meetings of a new organization that advocates carrying concealed weapons legally.
A sticker on Jan Exby's porch mailbox says it all:
"The owner of this Property is Armed and prepared to protect life, liberty and property from criminal attack.
"THERE IS NOTHING INSIDE WORTH RISKING YOUR LIFE FOR!"
The message, said Jan and her husband, Jim, isn't meant to offend visitors at their Overland Park home.
Its purpose is deterrence for would-be criminals, the same deterrence which they say would result from a concealed weapons law in Kansas.
"People tend to equate gun control laws with crime control," said Mrs. Exby, who earlier this year formed a Kansas City arm of Safety for Women and Responsible Motherhood (SWARM), Inc.
"Self-protection is not the same as trying to control the gangs in Kansas City, Kan."
SWARM, based in Wheat Ridge, Colo., has about 3,300 members nationwide.
Exby began holding meetings for Kansas City area women and men interested in self-protection about five months ago. Her activism in the group began about a year after she was attacked by a man in a Kansas City suburb.
Although SWARM is not a lobbying organization, individual members have testified or will testify before Kansas Legislative committees that hold hearings on a concealed weapons bill here.
Such a measure was passed by the Kansas House in 1995, but died in the Senate. It could come up this year, SWARM members say.
About 50 people, including at least three women who live or work in Lawrence, have attended SWARM meetings.
One of them, Suzanne Bateman, is a 41-year-old who works second shift at a Lawrence factory. She often drives home to the small Jefferson County community of Grantville at 1 a.m. on dark, country roads. Grantville is 25 miles northeast of Lawrence.
"I have a phone in the car, and I take all the normal precautions," she said. "But what happens when I'm sitting at a railroad crossing in the middle of nowhere and I'm threatened? By the time the police or sheriff's deputy gets there I could be dead."
Bateman, who has owned guns in the past, doesn't currently have one.
But she wants the right to be able to carry one in her vehicle and purse, legally.
"It's not that we want everyone to carry guns," she said. "It's just I would like to be able to know that I had the right to."
Bateman describes a gun as "just another tool -- a tool in preventing an attack."
She and other SWARM members said a gun is the only weapon that can even a woman's chances against a much larger attacker.
Pepper sprays, knives and other weapons aren't effective, they said, because they don't always inflict enough damage to stop an attacker.
With a concealed weapons law, criminals "might just think twice, even for just a second, about attacking someone if they think that person may be carrying a gun," Jan Exby said. "That may be all the time you need to get away."
Currently, it is illegal for anyone, including retired police officers, to carry concealed weapons in Kansas.
But some people are willing to break the law by carrying concealed weapons anyway, SWARM members and police say.
Current law, some argue, prevents people from carrying concealed weapons as a public service and safety issue.
Many, though not all, area law enforcement officers do not favor a concealed weapons law. They say that most people don't have the proper training or judgment to use weapons (or not use them) wisely.
"Personally, I don't think it's a good idea," said Kansas University police Sgt. Chris Keary.
Scott Hattrup, a SWARM member and attorney in Overland Park who lives in Lawrence, said citizens should have the opportunity to be properly trained.
"The police receive training, why shouldn't law-abiding citizens be able to have training?"
Keary said, "Done by whom, though? If the police department does it and the person does something wrong, the police department is liable."
Douglas County Sheriff Loren Anderson said it's difficult to take sides on a proposed concealed weapons law without a specific proposal.
SWARM members say that the crime rate has gone down in 31 states that have adopted concealed weapons laws.
But Anderson said, "What most of the feeling of law enforcement is, is that there's a lot of weapons out there already and its disheartening to think that we should have more.
"If they want to carry them, they can, they just can't conceal them."
Jim Exby described what he sees as a flaw in the law.
"If I'm standing here and I shoot someone who is threatening my life, I am within the law -- it's self-defense," he said. "But as soon as I put my gun in my pocket then I am breaking the law."
Not all or nothing
Some SWARM members concede that provisions in the Brady Law and restrictions on carrying concealed weapons are warranted. For example, they agree that guns should not be brought into certain places, such as schools, courthouses or bars.
"I don't think alcohol and guns mix," said Margaret Kipfer, a firearms instructor and 52-year-old Lawrence housewife.
SWARM members also say background checks for carrying a concealed weapon are prudent, although they point out that most criminals who want a gun can find one illegally.
Ron Dalquest, a 27-year-old Lawrence police veteran who now works for the U.S. Marshall Service in Topeka, said he's all for women protecting themselves.
"What I'm not for is a woman carrying it into a movie theater to watch a movie, or walking into a bar with it," he said.
But Kipfer and Bateman cited the case of Suzanna Gratia-Hupp, who was a customer in Luby's restaurant in Texas when a man walked in and began shooting. Several people died in the massacre, including Gratia-Hupp's parents.
Gratia-Hupp left the gun she was carrying in her car.
Last week, she was elected to the Texas House, in part, on a pro-gun platform.
Texas has a concealed weapons law.
Dalquest said Kansans lawmakers should use common sense if forming a similar law here.
"When you start writing laws like that, where do you stop?" he said.
"It's hard enough with police officers. You have accidental shootings, accidental discharges," he said.
But gun advocates cite a trend from the opposite direction -- an increasing number of laws that infringe on their Second Amendment rights.
"The law is supposed to protect people, it's not supposed to be an impediment to protecting yourself," Hattrup said.