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Guns allowed in many Sedgwick County facilities

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, August 30, 2011, at 8 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011, at 1:18 p.m.

— Sedgwick County residents who have concealed-carry permits may now take their guns into many county facilities.

Commissioners voted 4-1 Wednesday to approve a resolution opening up all but 27 county sites to the possibility of concealed carry. Commissioner Tim Norton voted no.

Commissioner Richard Ranzau, who sought the change, said, "As a result of this resolution, the citizens of Sedgwick County will not be any less safe than what they are today, but they will be freer. That, my friends, is a good thing."

All county facilities previously banned guns. The change is effective immediately.

Among the sites that will allow guns are 10 fire stations, three EMS posts, the Historic Courthouse, the Kansas Pavilions and the Extension Education Center.

There could be some exceptions beyond the 27 prohibited sites. The county owns or leases about 80 facilities where the public does business. The landlords of some of the leased properties — including three tag offices — will determine whether to allow concealed-carry weapons.

Five facilities — the county zoo, Exploration Place, Kansas African American Museum, National Center for Aviation Training and Lake Afton Observatory — are separate entities and have their own governing boards. The proposal agrees to allow those boards to set gun policy. All five currently prohibit guns.

The commission voted on a resolution that lists the 27 facilities where guns will continue to be prohibited. That list includes the Courthouse, Intrust Bank Arena and Comcare, a community mental health facility.

As a result of the change, some security may be added for the two courtrooms on the third floor of the Historic Courthouse. Those courtrooms handle county and traffic cases, although not on a daily basis.

State law says judges have the authority to allow or not allow guns in their courtrooms, and the county's resolution can't override that.

The Historic Courthouse currently doesn't have permanent security, said Steve Claassen, the county's director of facilities.

Claassen said it hadn't been determined what additional security measures would be taken for the courtrooms.

"I would not be surprised to learn that the district court administrative judge will require the county to provide weapons screening at Historic Courthouse courtrooms," he said.

In seeking the change, Ranzau contended that the county arbitrarily closed all its buildings to guns when concealed-carry permits were first allowed by the state five years ago.

He has said it's a fundamental right for those with permits to carry their guns into a county facility.

Last week, District Attorney Nola Foulston said it was contrary to the public's interest to allow guns in a government facility.

"I never made the assertion that this advances public safety," Ranzau, who has a concealed-carry permit, said during Wednesday's meeting. "It will advance liberty."

But he cited information that he says indicates the change won't threaten public safety.

Ranzau said he obtained information from the state Attorney General's Office that —"to the best of their knowledge" — there have been 28 incidents where a concealed-carry permit holder has used a gun to commit a crime in Kansas through 2010. There are 35,617 permits in effect.

"That's .8 per thousand," Ranzau said. He said the Kansas Bureau of Investigation's website shows the crime rate in Kansas in 2010 is 35 incidents per 1,000 people.

There are 7,106 concealed-carry permits issued to Sedgwick County residents.

Chairman Dave Unruh said the resolution was reasonable.

He said it "strikes that balance" between not allowing guns where it would create an unsafe situation and protecting individual rights.

Norton said he hasn't had anyone ask him why the county doesn't allow concealed carry in its buildings.

"I've heard about potholes," he said. "This isn't even close on the radar screen."

He said he understood the state was considering another change to its concealed-carry law during the next legislative session and suggested the commission wait until those changes are made before taking action.

Workers will start next week removing signs prohibiting guns from the appropriate county buildings, Claassen said.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com.

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