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Concealed-carry quietly in effect

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Nov. 27, 2009, at 12:06 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, Nov. 27, 2009, at 3:54 p.m.

For almost three years, Kansans have been able to carry concealed handguns if they obtain the required license.

So far, there have been no major incidents or widespread controversies involving the concealed-carry law, said Phil Journey, the former state senator and firearms advocate from Haysville who helped concealed carry become law. The head of the Kansas police chiefs association agrees with Journey.

At the same time, far fewer people than expected have obtained concealed-carry licenses.

Opponents to the law "generally raised the specter of people shooting each other over car wrecks or parking spaces... and that has not come true in Kansas or any other states that passed the law," said Journey, now a District Court judge in Sedgwick County.

"There are adequate checks in place," Journey said, noting that the law prohibits people with certain criminal or mental health histories from obtaining a concealed-carry license.

Another prediction that hasn't come true is the number of concealed-carry licenses.

In the spring of 2006, Journey said he expected about 48,000 Kansans, or 2 percent of the population, would obtain concealed-firearm licenses in the first four years.

In the first three years, about 23,000 people have gotten licenses, according to state records.

"A lot of people wanted the option (of carrying a concealed weapon), but they probably decided not to do it," Journey said.

The cost of obtaining a license — including a $150 application fee and a roughly $100 training course charge —"are prohibitive for a lot of people," Journey said. He expects an effort during the upcoming legislative session to lower fees.

Licensing rates vary

As of Nov. 16, state records showed that among the state's 105 counties, Butler County had the sixth-highest rate of concealed-carry licenses per 1,000 population — 14.7. Sedgwick County was No. 38, with 9.4 licenses per 1,000 residents. Harvey County was No. 59, with 7 licenses per 1,000, according to an Eagle analysis of data provided by the Kansas Attorney General's Office, which oversees the licensing.

Lane County, with a population of 1,743, had the highest rate of licenses per 1,000 — 18.9. Trego County, with 2,882 residents, had the lowest number of licenses per 1,000 — 1.

Law enforcement view

The president of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, Todd Ackerman, said he agrees with Journey's overall assessment.

"I feel that the law has worked well, and people have followed the guidelines," said Ackerman, the Marysville police chief. "I have not heard of any incidents."

Still, Ackerman said he shares a concern of Sedgwick County Sheriff Bob Hinshaw: that someone carrying a concealed handgun could be injured or killed where — during a chaotic, unfolding situation — a responding officer mistakes a well-intentioned license-holder for a criminal.

It's never happened, but there is the potential, Hinshaw said.

"I don't have a problem with law-abiding people carrying concealed weapons," Hinshaw said. "The problem I have is with non-law-abiding persons carrying concealed weapons."

In an e-mail, Attorney General Steve Six said although implementation of the law has gone well, it will continue to be revised to meet "everyone's expectations."

"I support our state's conceal carry law and will continue to ensure that Kansans' second amendment rights are protected," Six said.

Caution is stressed

Robert Anderson, who operates a concealed-carry on-line discussion group, ksccw.com, said that as part of the required eight-hour training for a concealed-carry license, applicants hear messages of caution: that "it's better to let law enforcement handle it. It's better to be the best witness you can be than to intercede," Anderson said.

Having the license is "not a permit to become a vigilante," he said.

"Sometimes the best defense is to walk away."

Craig Godderz, a certified concealed-carry instructor, who has trained about 1,000 people, mostly from Sedgwick County, said the training stresses using good judgment, getting out of a bad situation if possible and drawing a gun only as a last resort.

"The three big words that apply are rational, reasonable and prudent," he said.

So unless people find themselves in a situation where it is reasonable — where it fits the law —"then don't present it, don't draw it, don't use it," he said.

He tells his students, for example: "You don't carry a gun when you are out partying and drinking," just as someone shouldn't drink and drive.

Godderz, who has been training 12 to 15 people a month, said he has noticed an increase in demand for the training since Barack Obama became president. Godderz said he attributes it to a perception that Obama favors increased gun control.

Reasons for carrying

Mike Relihan, owner of Bullseye Shooting Range near 13th and Oliver, said training classes that have met at his business reflect a diversity of race, gender and age.

"They are a typical cross-section of the community," Relihan said.

David Pomeroy, who was at the Bullseye range with his 13-year-old son, Cole, said he is planning to take a concealed-carry course after the first of the year.

"I've had guns all my life," said Pomeroy, 57, who described himself as "a lifetime NRA member."

"The thought of being able to have a gun in certain areas, situations would be a plus," he said.

Harry Ross, a Bullseye manager and former police officer, said women are receptive to the idea of carrying a concealed gun because it gives them confidence "knowing they can defend themselves."

"They don't have to depend on someone else," Ross said.

Journey, a judge and former state senator, said many people obtain a license to carry a gun because they have practical security concerns. They work late at night or take receipts to a bank. They have been victims of domestic violence or stalking.

Or they worry about random crime, he said. "There doesn't have to be a reason that you can be a victim of crime."

License requirements

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the FBI help conduct background checks to make sure applicants are qualified.

Among the requirements of the law: According to the attorney general's Web site, a person can't apply for a license if they have "an adult felony conviction or diversion... been adjudicated as a juvenile for a felony... had a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence."

"Other misdemeanor convictions, diversions or adjudications (involving controlled substances, DUI, domestic violence and firearms), if occurring within five years of application will disqualify the applicant. ... Persons with a criminal history should consult an attorney before applying."

Also, the Web site says that an applicant "must now be 5 years removed from any attempted suicide — whether the attempt was committed with a firearm or not."

Most of those who apply receive a license. To date, 238 license applications have been denied. Another 183 licenses have been surrendered, suspended or revoked, according to state records.

The law also restricts where a licensed person can take a concealed handgun.

Businesses can opt to post an attorney general's approved sign that prohibits licensees from bringing their concealed weapons inside.

Contributing: Hurst Laviana of The Eagle Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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