Lawrence City Commission votes to ban people from openly carrying guns in city buildings

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., Thursday, July 7, 2016

At its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission made a decisive statement regarding openly carried firearms in city buildings.

The commission voted unanimously to adopt ordinances prohibiting open carry in the 40-plus buildings owned or leased by the city. The changes to city code also put in place significant penalties for those who violate the ban.

Commissioner Matthew Herbert said it was important that the city make a “very clear and very public statement” about open carry. Herbert said, as an example, that if openly carried weapons were allowed at City Hall, it would have a negative effect on discourse at commission meetings.

“I think one of the big things is that we have a lot of conversations in here where there is considerable disagreement on issues that people take very personally,” Herbert said. “I can’t see somebody walking up to the podium wearing a handgun being productive toward a civil conversation. There is no need for that.”

Two members of the public spoke in favor of the ban, saying that the city needed to do what it could to prevent gun violence.

Agreement among commissioners was definite.

“We need to pass this,” Commissioner Lisa Larsen said.

Banning the open carry of firearms in certain government buildings is allowed under state law provided the appropriate signs are posted. The commission adopted an ordinance to incorporate the relevant state law provisions into city code and establish penalties. A second ordinance requires all municipal buildings to be designated as prohibiting open carry.

Signs will be posted at building entrances, and the ordinance establishes a penalty for people who enter while openly carrying a firearm and refuse to leave after being asked. Those people would be guilty of aggravated criminal trespass, a misdemeanor, according to the ordinance. Those convicted could be incarcerated for up to a year, fined up to $2,500 or both.

Larsen and Commissioner Mike Amyx also asked city staff whether a ban could include additional city property. Responding to those questions, City Attorney Toni Wheeler explained that under the state law, the city can only ban the open carry of weapons in municipal buildings. She said the city cannot ban open carry in the city at large, and the municipal building ban excludes city parks and parking garages.

Wheeler told the commission that since 2013, the Kansas Legislature has limited municipal government’s ability to regulate guns and knives.

“They have stated very strongly that they believe it’s in the best interest of the state that there be uniform laws, and that the Kansas Legislature state what those laws can be,” Wheeler said.

The new ordinances will not affect the ability to carry concealed weapons. Beginning Jan. 1, if the city wants to prohibit concealed weapons in city buildings, state law requires that there be metal detectors and security guards at all entrances to those buildings. Currently, the only building used by the city that will be equipped to completely ban guns — whether carried openly or concealed — is the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

In other business, the commission unanimously approved a request from the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence to waive sales tax on construction materials for the club’s new teen center. The total value of the sales tax exemption is estimated to be $181,000. Of that amount, the city will forgo about $42,000 in sales tax revenue, and Douglas County will forgo more than $7,000. The state will forgo about $130,000.