Archive for Monday, February 16, 2004

Gun bill triggers unease in cities

Opponents say concealed-carry measure violates local control

February 16, 2004


When it comes to concealed weapons being carried on the streets of Lawrence, what the city's residents want wouldn't matter if a bill before the Kansas Legislature is approved.

That proposed undoing of local regulatory power worries many Kansans, including the League of Kansas Municipalities. The group says it is fine if, for example, Dodge City wants to allow people to carry hidden weapons. But the group also said towns that don't want that to happen should have the power to bar it.

That's the situation in Lawrence, where a city ordinance prohibits people from carrying hidden weapons.

"One size does not fit all in this circumstance," said Kim Gulley, a spokeswoman for the league. "Kansas City, Kansas, and Lawrence are not the same as western Kansas. They have different values and different concerns. When you're talking about public safety, those decisions ought to be made on a community-by-community basis."

Permit system

The league, which represents city halls across the state, is gearing up to oppose the bill. The issue, officials say, is one of local control.

But Rep. Candy Ruff, a Leavenworth Democrat who introduced the concealed-carry bill, disagreed. She said the "pre-emption clause" was a necessary part of the bill.

"When it comes to that particular type of legislation, the rules have to be the same across the state," Ruff said last week. "We can't have a change from community to community."

Ruff wrote the bill with Rep. Gary Hayzlett, a Lakin Republican. They were joined in sponsoring the bill by 34 other members of the House. The "Personal and Family Protection Act" is scheduled for hearings this week before the House Federal and State Affairs committee.

The bill would create a licensing system for gun owners allowed to carry hidden weapons. Permits would be denied to anyone with a felony criminal history or a recent history of alcohol abuse or mental illness.

And there's a laundry list of public places where concealed weapons wouldn't be allowed -- child care centers, bars, police stations, courthouses, schools and school events, as well as meetings of state and local elected officials.

Lawrence ordinance

In Lawrence, the gun ordinance doesn't get much of a workout. There was one conviction in Municipal Court for carrying a concealed weapon in 2002. Another charge was brought last year, but dismissed.

"I don't think it's one of our top offenses," said Toni Wheeler, an attorney for the city.

Ruff said she decided to sponsor the bill after hearing from victims of sexual assault. Many of those women, she said, already are carrying small pistols to protect themselves.

The Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee will conduct two hearings this week on the "Personal and Family Protection Act," which would allow permit-holders to carry concealed weapons:¢ 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, opponents will be allowed to speak.¢ 1:30 p.m. Thursday, advocates will make their case.Both meetings will be in Room 313-S of the Statehouse in Topeka.

"To a woman, they have said they won't go through this again," Ruff said. "They'll do whatever it takes to defend themselves. They'll risk being penalized and fined for carrying an illegal weapon."

She added: "I feel like they shouldn't have to do something illegal to protect themselves."

Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin declined, through a spokeswoman, to comment on the issue. Dodge City Police Lt. Tim Herrera, though, said he did not favor allowing people to carry concealed weapons.

"It's just another thing that the officers have to be cautious of," Herrera said. "They go on enough things where they have to deal with weapons, anyway. I don't know if there's a need or necessity."

A cost to cities

That's why such decisions should be made locally, Gulley said. The costs will be carried by local governments, not the state.

"A bar fight becomes a gunfight instead of a fistfight. There's a public cost to that," Gulley said. "It would be significant (cost) just to put metal detectors in City Hall; there are many other hidden costs."

Ruff is skeptical of such concerns.

"The people who will be permit-holders are law-abiding citizens," she said. "They will know you can't carry it into City Hall -- you don't carry it now into those places, and you won't be able to then."

Gulley said the league would be silent if the state decided to let local governments make their own rules on concealed carry.

"Our membership is split on whether concealed carry is a good idea," she said. "What they're not split on is home rule and local control."

Ruff, however, isn't interested in giving ground on the issue.

"I realize there is an issue of local control, and I don't deny that's a problem, but when it comes to enforcing this issue, it's got to be the same," she said. "We're not going to back down on pre-emption."

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