In Kansas, you can carry a concealed weapon anywhere, unless there’s a “no handgun” sign posted at eye-level at the entrance.
Currently, it’s up to local governments whether or not to allow concealed carry in their public buildings. If they don’t want handguns in their buildings, like any business, they have to post that “no handgun” sign.
But, on April 16, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law HB 2052, a bill that allows anyone with a permit to carry a concealed weapon into public buildings, unless that building has proper security measures, like metal detectors, wands, or armed guards. This new law takes that power away from cities, and puts it in the hands of the state.
Second Amendment Rights
Rep. Jim Howell is a Republican from southeast Wichita who testified on behalf of the bill. He says the impetus of the bill is to ensure that citizens are protected in these public buildings.
“The policy is either we provide security for you, or we allow you to protect yourself, and that’s really the genesis of this bill,” says Howell.
States should trust permit holders, he says, since they have passed concealed carry training.
“We know who these people are. They’re the good guys,” says Howell. “Why would we take the good guys’ right to defend themselves away?”
Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association (KSRA), was one of the primary lobbyists for the bill.
“The members of the KSRA believe in their right and believe that the Second Amendment protects their right to be able defend themselves and it doesn’t matter what the venue is,” says Stoneking.
Stoneking says you can choose not to go into a private business posted with a “no-handgun” sign, but people don’t have a choice if they need to go to the voter registration office or city hall.
She says gun owners are in a tough spot. In a building without security, there’s no control over who goes in, so there’s no guarantee that someone’s not carrying a gun. And at the same time, permit holders are not legally allowed to carry their firearm to defend themselves.
A Professional Opinion
Stoneking and Howell agree that it’s important to have self-protection in the event of a rampage shooting, like in Newtown, Conn. or Aurora, Colo.
“That’s very understandable to have some kind of protection in a circumstance like that. The problem is that it comes at a real cost," says Philip J. Cook, professor of economics and sociology at the Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, who has researched the social cost of gun availability and violence.
“The cost is going to be having guns in places we’re not used to having guns. To have guns in schools, guns in public buildings, is going to increase the risk of accidents and shootings just because the guns are there,” he says.
Cook mentions public schools because this law also gives state colleges and school districts the power to designate certain employees to carry a concealed handgun at work.
He says that the research shows the risk increases almost regardless of who’s carrying.
But he says it’s still unclear how concealed carry affects public safety in general. There have been a lot of studies, but Cook says the evidence is weak on both sides of the issue.
Uncertainty in Prairie Village
Nonetheless, a lot of cities throughout Kansas are going to have to make some security changes to their buildings. One of those places is Prairie Village City Hall, a building with five different entrances and almost no security at any of them.
Dennis Enslinger, Assistant City Administrator, says the design of the building makes it complicated to secure. It’s a “giant U” with the police department on one side and City Hall on the other, connected by a hallway.
Under the new law, police departments are exempt from providing “proper security measures,” so it’s unclear if the rest of the complex counts as part of the police department, he says.
Enslinger says that Prairie Village residents' primary concern is that the law violates home rule authority. They think that the community should be able to decide what's right in their own buildings.
He adds that one difficulty in thinking of possible security measures is that neither City Hall nor the police department holds a normal 8-5 schedule. There are always meetings and court hearings in the evenings, so Englinger says he’s unsure if Prairie Village needs to provide security for these after hours activities.
So, everything about this building comes into question: if they need security, the extent of that security, how many hours they need it during the day. Plus, how much will it cost?
A moderately-priced metal detector runs at $4000. But, Rep. Jim Howell, doesn’t think it has to cost much of anything— just allow concealed carry.
“I would argue, the price of a razor blade,” says Howell. “Not to be silly, but the right answer is, we should trust law-abiding citizens.”
The law goes into effect on July 1. Then, cities have until January to come up with a security plan. After that, local governments can apply for a 4-year exemption with the state attorney general while they put those security measures in place. During that four years, concealed carry would still be banned in those public buildings.
But for right now, Enslinger says his office is still in the process of assessing the law. They’ll compile the information, and present it to the City Council. Then, the City Council will decide if they want to allow concealed carry, or front the cost to provide security.
Kansas isn’t alone, though, in passing statewide gun legislation. Dozens of states now are enacting similar laws, according to Jeff Welty, a professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
But Kansas is a bit different.
“This bill may go farther than most in terms of limiting local governments in their own buildings,” says Welty. “But the impetus behind the bill, the idea of expanding gun rights is familiar and has a lot of political momentum right now.”
Currently, there are several other firearms measures going through the Kansas and Missouri legislatures.