September 14, 2013

Sedgwick County officials draft new concealed-carry plan

You won’t be able to pack heat in court or at a concert at Intrust Bank Arena. You will be able to take your concealed-carry handgun to the Sedgwick County Jail, but you’ll have to relinquish it before you go through security.

You won’t be able to pack heat in court or at a concert at Intrust Bank Arena. You will be able to take your concealed-carry handgun to the Sedgwick County Jail, but you’ll have to relinquish it before you go through security.

Those are some of the high points of a plan Sedgwick County leaders have crafted in response to a new state law. The law requires governments such as the county and the city of Wichita to allow concealed-carry permit holders to take handguns into public buildings unless they can demonstrate the buildings have adequate safety provisions.

Of 94 county-owned and occupied buildings, five would prohibit concealed-carry handguns under the proposed plan. Another 10 would prohibit weapons in secure areas. Of 30 buildings the county pays to lease space in, six would prohibit weapons at the discretion of the landlord.

“We paid attention to the law. We paid attention to the intent of the law. We’ve been thoughtful about how we would make it work,” Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan said Friday about the plan that commissioners will consider later this year, probably next month.

The courthouse, 525 N. Main, will be able to prohibit concealed-carry handguns because metal detectors screen people, their purses and their briefcases, and guards hand-wand anyone who makes the detectors buzz. Many days, the lobby of the courthouse sounds like a bunch of garbage trucks backing up — beep, beep, beep, beep.

The idea is that the courthouse already is safe because of the machines and the uniformed guards, so no one should need a gun to protect himself.

The same, the county says in its plan, goes for the juvenile court center.

Of the three other county-owned buildings that will prohibit concealed-carry handguns, two are detention/correction facilities and one is a non-public sheriff squad room.

The county also will prohibit concealed-carry in secure areas of 10 buildings, including the jail. You’ll be able to go through the front doors of the jail with a handgun if you have a concealed-carry permit, but you’ll have to place it in a locker to visit an inmate or, say, Sheriff Jeff Easter.

The landlords of six buildings leased by the county also will prohibit concealed-carry handguns, including the health department’s administrative building, which the county leases from the city. Six buildings that the county owns but leases out will be off-limits at the discretion of the tenants, which are not government agencies and are not required to comply with the state law. That means no concealed-carry handguns at the downtown arena, Sedgwick County Zoo, Exploration Place, Lake Afton Observatory, the Kansas African American Museum and the National Center for Aviation Training.

Comcare, the county’s mental health center, initially made the list of prohibited buildings, but the county had a change of heart.

It decided not to put in metal detectors or have security guards check people at Comcare because it didn’t want to give clients the idea that they were being singled out or weren’t trustworthy, Buchanan said.

“Comcare staff thought that that kind of screening would be detrimental to their mission of providing services. It said something to their clients that they didn’t want to say,” Buchanan said. “This was again a thoughtful process by Marilyn Cook and Tim Kaufman, who pretty much came to the same conclusion separately that to add additional stress or barriers for people walking in the door to get help just didn’t make sense.”

Cook is the executive director of Comcare, and Kaufman is director of human services for the county.

Evaluating the 94 buildings the county owns and those that it leases was tedious but important work, leaders said.

In June, commissioners approved a list of 19 buildings it owned or leased that the county asked the state to exempt from the law allowing concealed-carry handguns until the end of this year. That allowed the county time to weigh risk against the cost of putting security measures, like those at the courthouse, in place.

“This last phase is really just concentrating on the list that was approved July 1,” said Steve Claassen, facilities, fleet and parks director for the county. “We assembled that list of 19 buildings that the commission approved based on what the kind of uses we had in those buildings. Since that time, now we’ve gotten into more detail on the buildings and considered the costs of providing the full screen that the law required. It was an evolution.”

The city still is working on its plan.

“At this point, no final decision has been made,” Sharon Dickgrafe, the chief deputy city attorney, said in an e-mail. “This matter will be considered again by the city council closer to the end of the year. The police and law departments are working on evaluating buildings and the requirements of the state statute which are necessary to continue the exception to the statutory requirements.”

Commissioners probably will vote next month on a resolution that solidifies the list of buildings that prohibit concealed-carry handguns, Buchanan said. The county owns 177 buildings, but only 94 are places the public is likely to go. The rest are outbuildings such as sheds or docks.

The county’s only cost to comply with the law will be to put up and take down concealed-carry signs and about $8,000 for security measures at the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch.

Claassen said he doesn’t anticipate any hiccups in the plan.

“Our county counselor’s office was very involved throughout the process,” Claassen said. “Commissioners at various times stuck their heads in our meetings.”

One of those was Commissioner Richard Ranzau, an advocate of making as many buildings open to concealed-carry handguns as possible.

“I attended a couple of the meetings and helped discuss the issues,” Ranzau said. “What it does is maximize the number of county facilities that are open to concealed carry under the current law. It doesn’t require to ask us for any four-year exemptions. Once we have this done, we’re done. So I think that’s good.”

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