Statehouse visitors can bring concealed firearms next month

06/19/2014 12:11 PM

08/08/2014 10:24 AM

Visitors to the Kansas Statehouse will be able to bring concealed firearms starting July 1, House and Senate leaders confirmed Thursday.

Kansas lawmakers made it legal last year for permit holders to carry concealed firearms in public buildings, including the state’s Capitol.

Public buildings can be exempted if they are equipped with metal detectors and security guards, as the Capitol does. The bill gave the Legislative Coordinating Council the month of June 2014 to determine whether the Capitol already has adequate security measures.

The council has chosen to not review the building’s security measures until July, meaning it becomes legal to carry a concealed weapon in the Statehouse effective July 1.

“The bill states not ‘shall’ but ‘may.’ The LCC ‘may,’ ” said House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, the council’s chair.

He said he had no concerns about allowing concealed carry in the Capitol.

“It’s a right to carry a gun,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita. “We allow people who pass security measures and have a background check to carry. And so why should we restrict them in one place and not another?”

She emphasized that people must have a license to conceal and carry, which requires a background check and education.

Wagle said some Kansans feel safer carrying a gun and should be able to exercise that right. She was not concerned about whether some visitors to the Statehouse might be uncomfortable with allowing guns in the building.

“They’d be uncomfortable going into a restaurant. I mean those same people could be very uncomfortable in public with the way concealed-carry laws are in Kansas,” Wagle said.

Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, pointed out that lawmakers and Capitol employees are already allowed to carry at the Capitol. “I think the same should apply to the general public,” she said.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has questioned the rigor of training for concealed-carry permit holders. Brian Malte, national policy director for the organization, said earlier this week that allowing concealed weapons in public buildings increases risks.

But supporters say it will improve safety at the Statehouse. Stoneking, a frequent visitor to the Capitol, said she may consider carrying a gun to the building.

“I have a variety of models that I carry depending upon mode of dress and so on. So it might be a Glock model 23, might be a Smith & Wesson bodyguard. Could be any number of things,” Stoneking said.

“I would rather have one and not need it than need it and not have it. I certainly don’t consider the Statehouse a dangerous environment,” Stoneking said. “But I’m sure that people in the other facilities didn’t consider those facilities dangerous environments when something went wrong and an unhinged, dangerous, mentally ill person started shooting people.”

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