Lawrence city commissioners will have to decide within weeks whether to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for new security measures or allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring firearms into public buildings ranging from City Hall to recreation centers.
“My comfort level with this is not good,” City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said today, as commissioners began to get their arms around the issue.
City Manager David Corliss’ recently released recommended 2014 budget did not include any money for enhanced security measures, such as metal detectors and security officers to staff them, that will be required before the city can exempt itself from the state’s new concealed-carry law. The new law removes the city’s ability to ban concealed weapons simply by posting a "no guns" sign at entrances.
Corliss has estimated it will cost $200,000 to implement security measures at City Hall and the Lawrence Municipal Court. It could cost another $600,000 or more for the city to implement full-time security systems at facilities such as its recreations centers, indoor aquatic center, nature center and the Lawrence Public Library.
Farmer, City Commissioner Bob Schumm and Mayor Mike Dever all expressed concern about the prospect of allowing weapons into events ranging from city commission meetings to youth league basketball games. But all the commissioners stopped short of saying they could support adding more money, and possibly a property tax rate increase, to the budget to add the security measures.
“I am not very happy with the way the state has left us in a bind with this particular situation,” Schumm said. “It requires us to either raise taxes substantially to create a safe area, or we just roll the dice and see what happens.”
Farmer said he wants to get more information from city employees about how they feel about allowing guns into their workplaces. Dever said he wants the city’s legal staff to exhaust all options to gain another exemption from the law.
The city and Douglas County received an automatic exemption from the law through the end of 2013. The law contains language that raise the possibility governments could get up to four more years of exemptions, if they can prove they have proper plans in place.
But Corliss said it is unclear how feasible it will be for any city to gain such a multiyear exemption, and he said news on an exemption likely won’t be known by the time commissioners must approve the 2014 budget in August.
“What I really need this summer is some direction from the commission about what level of priority this is,” Corliss said.
Proponents of the law change argued that the old system of placing a "no guns" sign at an entrance did nothing to ensure anyone’s safety. Commissioners conceded the old system wouldn’t stop anyone intent on bringing a gun into a public building, but they said this new system creates worries about law-abiding citizens who bring a gun into a public meeting or office and then lose control of their emotions during a contentious meeting or event.
“My argument is good guys have bad days too,” Schumm said.
Corliss said there may be ways the city can reduce the projected costs to provide security to city buildings. For example, he said City Hall or Municipal Court may have a security desk that is only staffed during certain hours of the day. During those hours it would be illegal for permit holders to bring a concealed weapon into the building. But during the other hours it would be legal for permit holders to carry concealed.
Commissioners, though, said such a system sounds problematic. Commissioners also expressed concern about securing certain buildings, such as City Hall, but leaving others, like recreation centers, without security measures.
“That is going to create a situation where you have to pick and choose who deserves the highest levels of safety, and that will get very hard to do,” Dever said.