A gun bill that is stalled on the House floor might have a better chance of advancing through the Senate first, says Rep. Jim Howell, R-Derby.
Senate Bill 447, which would prohibit municipalities from enforcing their own gun ordinances in an effort to make understanding the law easier for gun owners as they move throughout the state, had a hearing in the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee on Monday.
It’s a copy of House Bill 2473, which stalled in the House. Howell, the primary author of the bill, blames controversies over other bills and an amendment added to his bill in committee for keeping it from going forward in the House. The amendment, which Howell did not write, would have made it legal to drive with a loaded handgun regardless of permits.
“There was some negative press,” he said. But he added that those issues have been addressed, and the controversial amendment was stricken.
“There’s concern especially after House Bill 2453 – the religious freedom bill – there’s concern I think by some members of the House that they don’t want any more controversial debates in the House,” Howell said.
“I would try to encourage our leadership to know if the bill were to come up for debate in the House, I would expect it to be a 20-minute debate. I think it’s fairly noncontroversial. I can’t think of anything in this bill right now that wouldn’t get 165-0,” he said, referring to the total number of votes in both the House and the Senate.
House Speaker Ray Merrick’s office said the schedule for the next two weeks has not been set. Howell said that House leadership is letting the Senate lead on this issue.
Howell said the bill simplifies gun laws statewide. He pointed to a provision that would make “no gun” signs on private businesses apply to both open carry and concealed carry. Right now, he said, someone could walk into a bank openly carrying unless the town’s municipal government explicitly bars that.
But the bill would prevent municipalities from restricting open carry on public sidewalks. The distinction between private and public is key to Howell’s bill and is the source of a remaining controversy.
Under Howell’s bill, public employers, such as Sedgwick County or the city of Wichita, could ask employees whether they are carrying a gun and whether they have a permit to do so, but they could not require employees to answer. Only police could do that.
The Kansas Association of Counties has said that this provision puts public employers at risk.
“Counties acting as employers would like to know what employees have guns in the workplace,” Melissa Wangemann, the association’s general counsel, said in her testimony. She cited the security risk and said if a crisis happens in a county building, law enforcement officers may want to know which employees are carrying weapons.
She said the bill does not treat private and public employers equally.
Ed Klumpp, spokesman for the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, spoke in favor of the bill overall but raised concerns about this provision, proposing an amendment to strike it.
“You have to look at the whole bill, and there are parts of the bill that are very important to us. We feel this would improve the bill,” Klumpp said, explaining the nuance from a law enforcement perspective.
John Commerford, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, told the committee not to change the bill and let a “clean bill” go to the Senate floor.
Gun advocates have contended that this portion of the bill is meant to prevent workplace discrimination against gun owners.
“There’s a lot of politics that go into gun rights. If you work for an employer that may not be sympathetic to your right to conceal and carry legally … that can create problems,” Commerford said.