November 27, 2013

Kansas AG: Guns OK in some polling places

Attorney General Derek Schmidt is advising state election officials that guns will have to be allowed in some polling places, but can be banned from others.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt is advising state election officials that guns will have to be allowed in some polling places, but can be banned from others.

In an opinion issued Wednesday, Schmidt told Secretary of State Kris Kobach that election officers will have to allow concealed carry at polling places in municipal buildings under the terms of a state law that passed earlier this year.

However, public schools, churches and other privately owned buildings used as polling sites will be able to ban guns on Election Day if they prohibit firearms the rest of the year, the opinion said.

The attorney general’s opinion is not binding, but can be relied on for guidance on legal issues until and unless the matter is decided by a court.

The issue arose after the Legislature passed, and Gov. Sam Brownback signed, the Personal and Family and Protection Act, a law expanding the right of concealed-weapon-permit holders to carry guns in government buildings.

The law’s main provision allows concealed carry in most city and county buildings unless the agency secures the building with metal detectors and guards. Key exceptions are K-12 schools, courtrooms and secure areas of jails, prisons, juvenile corrections facilities and police stations.

The question before Schmidt was whether the county’s use of other people’s buildings for elections constituted a lease of the property, which would trigger the gun law’s requirements.

Schmidt ruled that when a private entity allows the state to use its building for a polling place, that’s a license, not a lease.

The only exception would be if a county rented an entire building for a polling place. “However, we do not imagine this circumstance occurring often if at all,” he wrote in the opinion.

Schools are in a separate class because they are not considered “municipal” buildings under the law, he wrote.

More than three-fourths of Sedgwick County’s polling places are in churches, parochial schools or other private facilities. Some ministers said they would have to reconsider hosting elections if it meant they had to allow guns in their buildings.

Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said Schmidt’s opinion “won’t really change or affect our ability to keep the polling places we have.”

However, she said it will mean extra work for her staff because they will have to contact the owners of each private-sector polling place and advance-voting site to determine whether they allow firearms. She said her staff will compile a list of those that don’t so permit holders can call in and find out whether they can carry when they go to vote.

Twenty-three percent of the county’s polling sites are in municipal buildings where guns will be allowed, including Lehman’s own office in the Historic Courthouse downtown.

Because of security concerns, Sedgwick County no longer uses public schools for its polling sites, so that’s not an issue here, Lehman said.

“That was a change (former election commissioner Bill Gale) made years ago, handy for us,” she said. “Johnson County is having to scramble to move their polling places out of schools.”

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