Concerns mount over new gun law

A gun, bullets and Kansas concealed carry permit are pictured in this Journal-World file photo.

Drunken driving.

Carrying a firearm while under the influence of alcohol.

Attempted suicide.

Prior to July 1, all those situations were red flags for the Kansas Attorney General’s office when deciding whether to issue a permit for someone to carry a concealed handgun.

But now a new law, passed this spring by the state Legislature, largely has made those issues nonfactors. It also has left some state legislators concerned about where Kansas’ four-year-old concealed carry law is headed.

“What I’m seeing now is a slow erosion on a yearly basis of a lot of these exceptions that were originally written into the law for a good reason,” said Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence. “At the rate we’re going, we may have very few exceptions in the law. We may reach the point where we don’t have any.”

Some concealed carry advocates said that is the direction they would like to move because they believe many concealed carry laws unnecessarily restrict people who can legally own firearms.

“If you want to get down to the philosophical discussion about carrying guns, yeah, no one should even need a permit to do that,” said Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, which lobbied for the changes. “That’s certainly the direction we want to go, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon in Kansas. But there are states that don’t require a permit to carry a gun.”

The changes

The latest changes — which were approved 103-15 in the House and 37-2 in the Senate and went into effect July 1 — open up who can receive a permit under the state law. The changes eliminated several categories under which the Attorney General could rule someone ineligible to receive a permit. They included:

• Individuals with two misdemeanor DUI convictions in the five years prior to applying for the permit.

• Individuals with misdemeanor drug convictions in the five years prior to the permit applications.

• People who have been convicted of carrying under the influence in another state within the last five years.

• People who have been declared in contempt of court for child support proceedings.

• Individuals who have attempted suicide in the five years prior to applying for a permit.

In addition, the law removed one step for a convicted felon to apply for a concealed carry permit. Most felons fall under state and federal laws that restrict them from owning firearms, sometimes for life. But depending on the crime, those restrictions can be lifted after five or 10 years. The previous law required felons whose restrictions had expired to go through a court process to have their conviction expunged before applying for a permit. That step is no longer necessary.

Stoneking said opening up who can apply for a permit made sense. She said there already are state and federal laws that address whether people can buy a gun based on their criminal history or mental health history. She said the concealed carry requirements should be no stricter than those.

But Davis said he believes there’s a difference between allowing someone to own a gun and allowing them to conceal it on their person and take it into public places.

“Everybody deserves a second chance, but I have a real concern about allowing people who already have demonstrated an inability to follow the law to possess a concealed carry license,” said Davis, who also is the House Minority Leader.

No to testing

The law also has created a new provision that has left some law enforcement leaders saying it will be more difficult to prosecute concealed carry permit holders who are carrying under the influence of alcohol.

Under the previous law, concealed carry permit holders were required to submit to testing if a law enforcement officer had reason to believe they were carrying a gun under the influence of alcohol. If the permit holder refused, they automatically lost their license for three years.

Now, permit holders have no obligation to take the test — unless they’ve actually shot someone. The Kansas Association of Police Chiefs came out against the changes.

“It is going to be tougher to make a case stick in court because I can’t imagine most people consenting to a test when there is no sanction for not doing so,” said Ed Klumpp, former Topeka Police Chief and current legislative liaison for the police chiefs association. “I think it just adds a lot more loopholes.”

Among the loopholes, Klumpp said, is new language stating permit holders have violated the law only when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol “to such a degree as to render such licensee incapable of safely operating a handgun.” Klumpp said that likely will be difficult to prove in court, especially if no breath test is given.

Stoneking, though, said the old law gave law enforcement too much leeway in determining when to question whether a person was carrying under the influence. Plus Stoneking — who owns a firearms training business — said there may be some situations where a person who has had some alcohol should be entitled to carry a gun.

“Why should I lose my right to defend myself from the big burly guy who grabs me in the parking lot because I’ve had two glasses of wine with my dinner?” Stoneking asked, although she said guns and alcohol generally are a bad combination.

In addition to the Kansas Rifle Association, the National Rifle Association also testified in favor of the changes during the legislative session. A spokeswoman with the NRA on Thursday wasn’t able to immediately answer questions about the NRA’s support for the changes.

It also was unclear just how much the Kansas Attorney General’s office supported the changes. The minutes for a hearing on a previously enrolled version of the bill stated the attorney general’s office supported the “underlying concept” of the new law.

C.W. Klebe, an assistant attorney general who oversees concealed carry laws, said the office did share some of the same thoughts as the Kansas Rifle Association.

“It is I guess the balancing of a potentially intoxicated person with a gun versus the state taking away their ability to protect themselves if they are put in a position where they might need that gun,” Klebe said.

An attempt to receive further comment from the office of Attorney General Steve Six, D-Lawrence, wasn’t successful on Thursday.