Bill allows concealed guns at ballparks

Law would overrule city's preference to ban weapons

Kansas University senior Tyler Staples, Kansas City, Kan., left, and Jeremy Woods, right, leave Holcom Sports Complex after leading tryouts for the Lawrence Dynasty, a youth baseball team. Kansas lawmakers intend to amend the concealed-carry bill so that cities cannot ban firearms at outdoor youth sports venues.

Kent Houk has seen a lot during his time as a youth league baseball spectator: wild throws, close plays and did we mention wild throws?

What he doesn’t want to see is fans carrying concealed weapons to the ballpark.

“I can’t think of one instance where a person would need a concealed weapon at a youth league baseball game,” said Houk, father of an 8-year-old and 10-year-old who play in the Douglas County Amateur Baseball Association. “I can’t think of one good thing that would come out of that.”

State legislators, though, disagree. Both the Kansas House and Senate have passed legislation that will prohibit cities and counties from putting up signs outlawing people from carrying concealed weapons onto the grounds of outdoor youth sporting venues, such as baseball, soccer and football fields.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has not yet signed the bill. A spokesman for Sebelius said the governor had not yet decided whether to support it.

Rep. Candy Ruff, D-Leavenworth, said Houk and others shouldn’t worry. She said law-abiding residents have nothing to fear from other law-abiding residents who have gone through the proper training and certification to receive a concealed-carry permit in Kansas.

“People just need to get over this,” said Ruff, who has been a champion for concealed-carry legislation.

Leaders with the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department would like to have the ability to prohibit concealed carry on some of their properties. They were in the process of posting signs prohibiting concealed carry at Holcom Sports Complex, the YSI Complex and the Clinton Lake Adult Sports Complex.

Ernie Shaw, interim director of the department, said the combination of large numbers of children along with fans who sometimes let their emotions get the best of them was troubling.

“Our athletic events are like all athletic events,” Shaw said. “Sometimes people get heated at them. Even people who are very trustworthy and who have gone through the certification process could still lose their temper.”

Ruff said legislators made changes to the concealed-carry law because they wanted to ensure that the law was consistent across the state. The changes continue to allow cities and counties to prohibit weapons in public buildings. Businesses also are allowed to prohibit concealed weapons on their properties.

But Ruff said legislators thought it was important to stop cities and counties from prohibiting concealed weapons in areas that aren’t enclosed. She said adequately posting areas such as parks would be difficult.

“More or less the idea is that you had to draw the line somewhere,” Ruff said. “Buildings seemed to be the most logical place because those are identifiable areas.”

Some city commissioners, though, said they wished legislators would have left the regulations alone. Commissioner Boog Highberger said city leaders should be able to do what they think is necessary to provide safe venues for children.

“But what they’ve done seems to be within their authority,” Highberger said. “I assume our only course of action is to comply with the state law.”

Officials have argued the law does have some contradictory features. For example, schools are allowed to prohibit concealed weapons at their sporting events, whether indoors or outdoors.

“Their events might be a little more of a contest, but we probably have 10 times the amount of activities they do,” Shaw said. “The same tempers can flare regardless of the competition level.”

Ruff, though, said statistics don’t back up fears that problems will ensue if licensed, trained people are allowed to carry weapons to parks.

Shaw did concede that other states with concealed-carry laws have not reported significant problems with gun-toting fans at youth league events. But he said he still would like to have the option of playing it safe rather than sorry.

“The thing is that it does happen occasionally,” Shaw said of problems. “And all it takes is one time.”