April 17, 2013

Fear of a U.S. gun control crackdown fuels state, local efforts to bolster gun rights

Concerns about the federal government cracking down on control of guns has spurred state and local elected officials to ramp up their efforts to protect gun rights.

Concerns about the federal government cracking down on control of guns has spurred state and local elected officials to ramp up their efforts to protect gun rights.

Wednesday, the Sedgwick County Commission voted to adopt a resolution calling for the support of the Second Amendment and to reject any attempts by the feds to limit rights to keep and bear arms.

In Topeka, Gov. Sam Brownback this week signed into law two bills that expand gun rights.

One allows the local school boards, heads of state universities and community and technical college boards to designate employees who are allowed to carry concealed weapons into their buildings. The bill also loosens gun restrictions on other public buildings.

All seven members of the Wichita school board have said they would not designate a teacher or other school employees to carry a gun into the district’s buildings.

In addition, Kansas Board of Regents chairman Tim Emert said Wednesday that universities will continue with their status quo of keeping concealed weapons off their campus and conduct an in-depth review of whether to change that the policy this fall.

A second bill signed by Brownback says that Kansas-made guns are immune from federal regulations inside the state.

The county commission held a lengthy debate over the resolution before approving it on a 3-2 vote, with Tim Norton and Dave Unruh voting no.

The amendment was presented by Commissioner Richard Ranzau, who said the county needs to send a strong message to the federal government that the county supports the individual right to keep and bear arms.

“This resolution is in response to an ongoing debate we’re having about the right to bear arms,” Ranzau said. “It’s about the anti-gun climate, the anti-liberty climate in various levels of government.”

Unruh and Norton said it wasn’t necessary for the county to pass a resolution because the U.S. and Kansas constitutions already protect those rights.

“I already took an oath supporting those constitutions,” Unruh said. “This is saying we don’t trust our original oath. I took that oath forever.

“Why don’t we just pass a resolution that says we support all amendments?”

Ranzau said the only amendment being attacked on the federal level is the Second Amendment.

“My interest is in following the constitution,” he said. “I want the federal government to follow the constitution.”

Unruh said he was a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. He offered to put the same language that was in Ranzau’s resolution into a proclamation, but his motion died for a lack of a second.

A resolution has the effect of county law, while a proclamation is non-binding.

“My whole posture has been that fewer laws and regulations than more laws and regulations,” Unruh said. “This seems like an unnecessary duplication.”

Ranzau replied, “I don’t believe standing up for our individual liberties is unproductive in any way, shape or form. If we remain silent, we are making a statement.”

Norton said his vote had nothing to do with how he feels about the Second Amendment. He said he was concerned about language in the proclamation that calls on the local, state and federal elected official to “nullify or rescind any treaty, statue, ordinance. . .that infringes upon the individual right to keep and bear arms.”

He questioned the legality of the statement. Deputy County Counselor Jennifer Magana told the commission that the resolution was legal.

A number of counties and cities in Kansas, as well as across the nation, have already adopted resolutions with almost identical language as the one presented by Ranzau.

In Topeka, the concealed-carry legislation (House Bill 2052) cleared the Republican-dominated Legislature earlier this month with four-fifths majorities in both chambers.

The law allows universities to continue banning concealed weapons through 2017, but it requires them to establish security checkpoints in order continue that ban.

“We obviously cannot thoroughly investigate the issue between now and July 1 (when the law goes into effect),” Emert said.

He said Regents plan to notify the state attorney general that the schools will continue with existing policies while they talk to experts, lawmakers, security officials and the public about whether to change their polices.

“That doesn’t mean there will be changes,” Emert added, “but there will be an in-depth look at it.”

Like the local school boards, the boards of the Washburn University and community and technical colleges would set their own policy, a Regents spokeswoman said.

During discussion of the concealed-carry bill, Legislators said the measure wasn’t a reaction to recent mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado. They said the expansion of places licensed Kansans can take firearms is part of a years-long push to make public buildings safer, because criminals will ignore signs that ban guns anyway.

Lawmakers enacted a law allowing the carrying of concealed weapons in 2005, and the state began issuing permits in 2006. Since then, some legislators have been frustrated because they believe the Regents and local officials have been too quick to prohibit guns in their buildings.

“Kansas citizens who are licensed to carry are law-abiding citizens,” Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, said. “The problem is not guns.”

Opening public buildings to concealed-carry isn’t much of an issue in the Wichita area.

In 2011, Ranzau initiated commission action that allowed people with permits to take their guns into county facilities. The city of Wichita followed suit a short-time later and opened many of its buildings to people with concealed-carry permits.

The law also won’t make people with valid state permits subject to criminal prosecution subject to criminal prosecution if they carry concealed weapons into a building, though officials can direct them to remove the gun or leave.

In the other gun-related bill signed into law by Brownback, both chambers overwhelmingly passed the Second Amendment Protection Act (Senate Bill 102) that says guns made in Kansas are immune from federal regulations inside the state.

During the debate on that bill, fears of the federal government coming to take Kansans’ guns dominated the debate. Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, R-Grandview Plaza, pointed to the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff and sniper shooting in Idaho as one of the examples of the federal government attacking citizens.

“The state, along with many others, should be sending a message that we’re going to protect our citizens, even from the federal government if need be,” he said.

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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