Guns and bars do not mix.
That's the message city commissioners will be asked to send Tuesday as they consider a police request to strengthen existing city law prohibiting people from possessing any firearm - or knife over 3 inches long - while in proximity to a drinking establishment.
"I think this could be a tremendous tool for law enforcement," said Scott Miller, a city attorney who drafted the changes to the law. "It won't by any means be a panacea that solves all the problems related to violence and guns, but it can help."
The new ordinance comes on the heels of the death of a 46-year-old Topeka man who was shot early Sunday outside the Granada nightclub in downtown Lawrence. But Miller said police asked for a change in the ordinance in January after seizing several guns from patrons and vehicles downtown.
Police spokesman Sgt. Dan Ward declined to comment on why the police asked for the changes, saying it would be "premature" to make a statement before Tuesday's City Commission meeting.
But Miller confirmed the current law contains a gray area because it makes it illegal to have a firearm in "close proximity" to a bar or restaurant that serves liquor, but it does not define close proximity. The new ordinance would make it illegal to possess a firearm or other weapons within 200 feet of any drinking establishment.
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The new ordinance also would increase penalties for violating the ordinance from a maximum $1,000 fine and 180 days in jail to a maximum $2,500 fine and one year in jail.
City Commissioner Mike Amyx said he supported the change, but said it likely was only a first step in addressing the aftermath of Sunday's shooting.
"We'll have to have more meetings to talk about what else we can do," Amyx said. "This issue is of great concern to me. It should be for everybody. I know at the commission level we're taking it very seriously. This is something we can't just let pass us by."
City prosecutor Jerry Little said he hadn't experienced difficulties prosecuting violators under the current ordinance, but said he supported the changes.
"We want to avoid having problems," Little said.
State law - for the moment - makes it illegal to have a concealed weapon anywhere within the city. But without the city law, it would be legal, for example, for someone to have a loaded pistol sitting in plain view on the seat of a car parked just outside the entrance to a bar, because the firearm would not be considered concealed.
A bill recently approved by the Kansas Senate would make it legal for people to carry a concealed weapon if they've received a state license. If the bill wins final approval, it would trump the Lawrence ordinance. As currently written, the state law would not allow even license holders to carry a concealed weapon in a bar, although they could in a restaurant that serves alcohol.
Miller said he wasn't aware of any way for the City Commission to pass a law that would exempt the community from a statewide concealed-carry law.
City commissioners will meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.