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Wichita City Council repeals gun ordinances to comply with new state law

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, June 10, 2014, at 8:05 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, June 10, 2014, at 8:07 p.m.

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Most firearms confiscated by Wichita police soon will be sold at public auction rather than being destroyed.

Also later this month, a person traveling in a vehicle with a gun no longer will be required to keep it unloaded and in a case.

And the city won’t be able to require armed private security guards to take advanced firearms training.

The City Council on Tuesday struck down those measures in order to comply with a state law that takes effect July 1.

Repeal of the city ordinances will take effect June 20.

The council also discussed knives being allowed in City Hall and other public buildings starting July 1 as the result of another state law.

Knives, however, were not part of Tuesday’s votes. Repeals of ordinances were.

Some of the votes supporting the repeals were made begrudgingly. In fact, after a unanimous vote made the changes regarding security guards, Mayor Carl Brewer and council member Lavonta Williams – in a symbolic protest – voted against the repeals dealing with destruction and transportation of firearms.

Council member James Clendenin made a point of asking Sharon Dickgrafe, the city’s chief deputy attorney, whether it would do any good to vote against repealing the ordinances.

“Are we just making a statement,” he asked, “or are we getting something done?”

“From a legal standpoint,” Dickgrafe said, “you would lose any court challenge. After paying attorney fees, you’d only be making a statement.”

After the meeting, Clendenin said, “Spending taxpayers’ money without any real expectations of positive results – that’s just not responsible.”

He said he was more concerned about the state making rules for cities.

“I’m coming at this from a control issue than a purely gun-knife issue,” he said. “We’re here 365 days a year taking calls from the public.

“We’re better equipped to know what is best for our city.”

City vs. state

Council member Pete Meitzner said he wished state legislators had been there to respond to questions about the new law.

“The state doesn’t like it when the federal government is imposing things on it,” he added. “Sometimes the local governments don’t like it, and we get it from the federal and the state levels.”

House Bill 2578 dealt with many of the gun laws that control regulations in municipalities. In April, the House voted 102-19 and the Senate 37-2 to pass the bill, and Gov. Sam Brownback signed it into law.

One of the driving forces for the bill was to avoid a patchwork of laws that now exists from one municipality to another, supporters have said.

The bottom line on Tuesday was the city was cutting out anything that gave it regulation over firearms, Dickgrafe said.

That included what it did with guns confiscated by police during investigations. State law that takes effect July 1 requires firearms be sold at a public auction by a federally licensed firearms dealer.

Like many other Kansas cities, Wichita had destroyed weapons after they were no longer needed in an investigation.

Firearms used in a homicide, or those in poor condition, cannot be sold, according to the new law.

“If a gun is involved in a murder,” said Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas Rifle Association and a supporter of HB2578, “go ahead and melt it down.”

“What we object to is perfectly good guns being destroyed just because authorities can’t locate the owner.”

Law enforcement has argued that destroying guns reduces crime.

But Rep. Jim Howell, R-Derby, who was the main advocate for HB2578, said taxpayers own the guns.

“It’s wrong policy to destroy something that has value,” he said. “You can sell the guns and use the money to reduce crime.”

The council also struck down its ordinance on transportation of firearms, including a requirement that guns be unloaded and in a case.

Security guards

In presenting the repeal of the ordinance concerning security guards, a city document said Wichita police “consider it important for armed private security officers to be properly trained and regulated.”

But HB2578’s broad language prevents “any regulation of the types of firearms carried, required firearm training or firearm permit requirements” for private security guards, the document said.

The police department issues licenses for individual security guards and companies and conducts training for the guards.

The department can continue a basic, 32-hour course that covers some firearms safety information. An advance course can continue teaching about such things as handcuffs and Tasers but not firearms.

Council member Janet Miller said she had “grave concerns” about guards not being required to take advanced training in firearms.

While security firms may require that training, she said, “There’s no guarantee the guards will have safety training, and there won’t be a limitation on types of weapons being carried.”

Rules on knives

As for the knife issue, knives of any kind currently aren’t allowed in City Hall. But effective July 1, state law says knives can be brought into all public buildings.

That includes daggers, switchblades, stilettos and straight-edged razors, according to the statute.

Because City Hall has security measures that provide screening on the ground floor, Dickgrafe said, the Municipal Court’s administrative judge could issue an order to prevent any knives from being brought inside the building.

“The state statute clearly gives the judges that authority,” Dickgrafe said.

The administrative judge, however, wouldn’t have the authority to prevent knives being brought into the city’s other public buildings, including neighborhood city halls, she said.

Someone could ask Attorney General Derek Schmidt for an opinion on the state law allowing all knives into public buildings, Dickgrafe said.

State statutes prevent knives from being taken into state buildings, she said.

Dickgrafe said there also is confusion in state laws about when a knife is a weapon and when it’s not.

Some statutes call it a weapon, some don’t.

State law says a knife is a weapon “only if you intend to unlawfully use it to harm another person,” Dickgrafe said.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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