TOPEKA — Kansas gun owners could go anywhere in the state and know they are allowed to openly carry a gun under a bill that had a hearing Thursday in a House committee.
House Bill 2473, sponsored by Rep. Jim Howell, R-Derby, would prevent municipalities from enacting or enforcing any laws restricting the open carrying of firearms and grant gun owners working in the public sector additional protections.
He said the intent was to provide clarity in the law. “People are traveling across the state unknowingly breaking the law and if they get caught we don’t know whether they’d be prosecuted or arrested.”
He presented an amendment to the bill at a hearing of the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs, however, that restored cities and counties’ ability to regulate firearms in public buildings such as jails, courthouses and city halls.
But he emphasized that under his bill no municipality could prevent a citizen with a permit from walking down a public street with his or her firearm.
The city of Wichita has already been following that standard based on an opinion from the attorney general, said Dale Goter, the city’s lobbyist. Goter, who attended the meeting, said the city has no official stance on the bill.
Although open carry is the primary focus, the 22-page bill tackles a range of gun and knife regulations. One measure would prevent cities from compiling information on whether employees have conceal and carry permits.
Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, accused Wichita of tracking which employees have conceal and carry permits.
“Anything can happen to those local records,” Stoneking said. She said supervisors could discriminate against employees based on their gun permits and that the records posed a privacy risk. “What prevents someone from stealing a list that they’ve made and slipping it to the media?”
Sharon Dickgrafe, the city’s chief deputy attorney, explained in a phone call that the city asks employees to disclose and provide a copy of their permit only if they plan to carry a firearm while on the job. Employees with conceal and carry permits who have no plans to bring their guns to work are under no obligation to disclose.
She said the policy is for both safety and to protect the city from liability.
Rep. Larry Campbell, R-Olathe, asked Howell if cities would be vulnerable to lawsuits if employees carrying guns injured someone accidentally or purposely.
Howell said the employee would bear responsibility, but Campbell said that this should be stated explicitly to protect municipalities from liability.
Proponents say the bill will simplify gun law for citizens and law enforcement alike.
“It will make it easier for everybody,” Stoneking said. “This way everyone — law enforcement, all the municipalities and all the citizens — know what the law is.”
But the bill’s early stages, some complexities have already arisen.
Kevin Jones, director of law enforcement for wildlife and parks, expressed concerned over the bill’s wording. Currently courts have the authority to demand defendants forfeit firearms based on the seriousness of the crime. Jones says Howell’s bill “preempts that decision from the court whether the gun should be forfeited.”
“That’s an area of major concern,” he said. Jones noted that he would support the bill if this issue were addressed.
Stoneking told Jones that issue could be worked out.
In her speech to the committee Stoneking said that Kansans have been arrested for transporting firearms in various municipalities even though they were following state law. Asked to provide examples after the hearing, Stoneking would not share specific arrest information.
The bill also makes it illegal for municipalities to use local taxpayer money for gun buyback programs.
Kelly Arnold, the Kansas GOP chair, said gun buyback programs are an ineffective way to combat street violence and illegal guns. He called it a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“It’s buying a legal product, and having a government with taxpayer dollars to pay for those and what they’ll end up doing is just destroying these things,” he said.
Arnold also noted that the bill would prohibit municipalities from destroying guns that had been confiscated. He said these guns can be put to better use.
He said the Republican party would continue to push for looser gun regulations and suggested this creates the opportunity for the state to market itself for gun companies frustrated with regulations in other states.
Opponents of the bill will speak Friday. The bill faced little opposition from Democrats in the first day of the hearings.
Rep. Emily Perry, D-Mission, asked if the bill would guns to be brought onto school campuses. Howell assured her that schools would be excepted, but added that school districts would be prevented from obligating employees to disclose if they have conceal and carry permits.