A new state law aimed at allowing people to legally carry concealed guns into public buildings has local government officials across the state scrambling.
The law goes into effect in less than a month, on July 1, but municipalities can exempt themselves from the law until Jan. 1, 2014 by sending a letter of notification to the Kansas attorney general. That short-term solution is relatively simple, but the long-term implications of the law could have serious consequences for both local governments and state entities, including state universities.
The new law requires most local governments to allow people with concealed-carry permits to bring handguns into public buildings unless the building is equipped with “adequate security measures” to ensure that no guns can be brought in. The point of the legislation, advocates say, is that if security isn’t tight enough to keep out illegally carried guns, then legally carried guns also shouldn’t be excluded.
“Adequate” security measures include electronic equipment or personnel stationed at public entrances to make sure guns aren’t admitted. Simply posting a sign, as many municipalities now do, won’t do the job.
County and city commissions across the state are choosing to apply for the six-month exemption to give them more time to examine their options. In Garden City, the chief judge of the district court asked the Finney County Commission to seek the exemption. Commissioners agreed but acknowledged it was unlikely any better options would exist in six months. A similar discussion occurred in Newton, among Harvey County commissioners, who were pondering whether to pursue exemptions for up to four years, which is allowed only if a municipality can show it has a plan to add the necessary security to comply with the law. In Newton, officials estimated that installing a metal detector in the courthouse would cost $600,000 to $800,000 with an ongoing annual cost of $250,000. That’s a big expense for a relatively small county.
Did state legislators even consider the financial burden such security measures would put on local governments? If they did, they surely must have realized that most local governments wouldn’t be able to handle the expense. That lends credence to the view that the legislators’ real intent was not for governments to improve security but rather for them to give up, remove the “no gun” signs and allow concealed guns in public buildings.
Lawrence city commissioners have decided to take advantage of the six-month exemption, as did Douglas County commissioners who took the opportunity to express their displeasure. Commissioner Jim Flory didn’t mince his words, saying the security of county buildings should be a local, not a state, issue and that “the only people who ought to be carrying concealed weapons in county facilities are certified law enforcement officers.” As a former Douglas County sheriff’s deputy and district attorney, as well as a former U.S. attorney for Kansas, it seems that Flory has some basis to know what he’s talking about.
He and the other county commissioners also said they hoped local governments across the state would band together and fight to have the new concealed carry law changed or repealed. Once officials and taxpayers realize how much it will cost to comply with the security law and that the only alternative is to allow unlimited concealed guns in public buildings, support for that position may grow. There’s strength in numbers. Kansans need to make their opinions on this legislation known.