Ignorance of the law - as we all know - is not a defense. So, exactly what is the state's responsibility for notifying residents of laws that affect the everyday conduct of their lives and businesses?
That's a question many people are asking almost a year after some changes to the Kansas statute governing the carrying of concealed weapons. The concealed carry law got considerable attention when it originally was passed in 2006, but some provisions included in additional legislation passed in 2007 to "clean up" the law went pretty much unnoticed even though they had a significant impact on enforcing the law.
The part of the bill that most people were aware of had to do with prohibiting cities from exempting themselves from the concealed carry law. However, the bill also changed how the concealed carry law would be enforced at bars and taverns. In the original law, bars and taverns were among the places that had a blanket prohibition on concealed weapons. In 2007, legislators decided that was too confusing and that bars and taverns should be like all other businesses, which are required to post signs saying that concealed weapons are prohibited there.
The only problem is that no one made a point of telling the bar owners - or apparently even the police - about the change. Bar owners informed about the new law by the Journal-World said they had no idea about the change; a Lawrence man who is executive director of the Kansas Licensed Beverage Association said the same. A city attorney who works with the Lawrence Police Department said he would need to inform officers of the change.
The changes were published in the statute book and on the state attorney general's Web site, one legislator said. That should be good enough. He's right, that it meets the letter of the law, but it seems to violate the spirit, especially when it creates a loophole that could help someone avoid prosecution for carrying a concealed weapon in a bar. As the law now stands, someone couldn't be prosecuted for that offense unless the bar was displaying a sign prohibiting weapons. Local bar owners didn't know until last week that the signs were necessary, so enforcement would have been impossible.
The news media, as well as various industry groups, put considerable effort into trying to monitor the activities of our lawmakers, but it's hard to know about everything, especially if legislators don't make any effort to make it known.
Just when is seems that our state legislators aren't doing very much, something like this crops up. Maybe they're doing a lot more than most Kansans know.