Wichita will open most of its public buildings – including libraries, recreational centers, CityArts and the Wichita Art Museum – to people carrying concealed guns under a new state law.
Fearful of lawsuits, the City Council voted 4-2 to allow concealed-carry in all but 16 of 107 city-owned buildings effective Jan. 1.
Guns will continue to be banned at City Hall, Mid-Continent Airport buildings, police buildings and city housing department facilities. In city buildings that are leased to third parties, such as the Wichita Boathouse, the operators retain the right to ban guns.
The state law, Senate Substitute for House Bill 2052, permits buildings to be exempted if they have proper postings and have adequate security measures. It became effective July 1.
Janet Miller and Lavonta Williams voted against opening the buildings. Jeff Blubaugh, James Clendenin, Jeff Longwell and Pete Meitzner voted for it. Mayor Carl Brewer is in China this week.
Clendenin and Meitzner said the state law is poorly worded and does not clearly define “adequate security.”
“It’s unfortunate,” Clendenin said. “But the intent of the law is pretty clear: to have concealed-carry in these buildings.”
Miller called the vote a “tragedy” from the bench. She criticized concealed-carry permit holders, saying they’re inadequately trained to carry guns in public buildings. She called concealed-carry permit training a “joke.”
“Statistically, highly, highly trained professional law enforcement officers in the state of emergency hit their targets 30 to 50 percent of the time,” she said. “So what do we think Joe Schmo, who’s carrying a concealed weapon, how accurately do we think that person is going to fire their weapon? Yes, they have a right to protect themselves, but chances are greater they’ll hit something they don’t intend to hit in situations where there are children and families and other persons around. I think those rights are much greater than the individual to carry a gun.
“If they’re so worried about their public safety in a library and a rec center, man, don’t go there.”
Blubaugh was the most public supporter of peeling back the gun restrictions, saying he wants his wife and children – when they’re old enough – to be able to protect themselves.
“I feel like we’re coming down on folks who have a concealed-carry license,” he said.
The city requested an initial exemption last summer for 107 city-owned buildings. It had until Jan. 1 to review those facilities and develop security plans, or open the buildings.
City staff members proposed keeping 34 buildings closed to concealed-carry, based on the existence of children’s activities, day care or recreational activities; law enforcement activities; and services regulated by federal agencies, primarily at Mid-Continent Airport.
But some council members questioned city liability and whether the city could provide “adequate security.”
Deputy City Attorney Sharon Dickgrafe told the council that the only certain immunity from liability the city can earn is under the law – by allowing concealed-carry in its buildings.
The council could take definitive – and costly – financial steps to provide that adequate security through the placement of metal detectors and armed security in the buildings.
“But with this budget, I don’t know where that money would come from,” Miller said.
Tuesday’s vote apparently has no impact on open-carry in city buildings, with city legal staff members reiterating that the city can restrict open-carry.
After the meeting, Miller and Williams were clearly upset.
“My thing is the kids,” Williams said. “What are we teaching them? Two wrongs don’t make a right. If you’re saying the outlaws are carrying so we should carry, then two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Miller said the council was powerless to act against the state law until the makeup of the Kansas Legislature changes.
“I don’t think the current Legislature has any intent of making any changes to the legislation they’ve enacted,” she said. “It’s not going to change at the local level until there are changes at the state level.”