If Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt decides that concealed-carry of guns must be allowed at polling places, and churches and schools bow out as a result, the responsibility will be that of the 2013 Legislature, which rushed to expand the gun law with far too little concern for such disruptive consequences.
As the House and Senate voted 104-16 and 32-7, respectively, for the bill last spring and Gov. Sam Brownback signed it, the goal clearly was allowing concealed guns in as many public buildings as possible. The law requires counties, cities and other public entities to welcome concealed-carry permit holders bearing firearms if their buildings do not have “adequate security measures.” In most cases, meeting that standard would mean doing unaffordable renovations and hiring security guards. Four-year exemptions were built into the law for public universities, community mental health centers and public health care facilities. But many public entities inevitably will give in and welcome guns, if not now then four years from now.
That will be mission accomplished for lawmakers – though 55 percent of Kansans polled in the Docking Institute of Public Affairs’ most recent “Kansas Speaks” survey said they oppose allowing concealed-carry of guns in schools, hospitals and government buildings.
Because the law is ambiguous regarding polling places, Secretary of State Kris Kobach recently requested a legal opinion from Schmidt. Polling places usually are located where concealed guns are not allowed, including churches, K-12 public schools, universities and nonprofit organizations. But if the sites are considered property leased by counties or municipalities, either those costly “adequate security measures” would be needed or concealed guns would be welcome. Among the questions for Schmidt is whether it makes a difference if governments pay for use of the sites or use them gratis.
If Schmidt’s verdict is that the guns need to be allowed, expect some churches and other private entities to stop being polling places. That will limit the options for some communities. As state Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, said: “It’s hard enough as it is to come up with a building that’s going to be open all day and that’s handicapped-accessible.” Parking availability is always key, too.
Guns and voting seem like an uneasy combination at best. As it is, somebody who displays or brandishes a firearm at a poll can be prosecuted for voter intimidation. Even gun-friendly Texas specifically prohibits concealed-carry at the polls.
So it will be a significant change for Kansas if polling places must welcome concealed guns, in some cases trampling on not only the local control of public entities but the property rights of privately owned buildings.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau, a leader of the local effort to open more public buildings to concealed-carry, said the polling-place issue “is something that is going to have to be sorted out at the state level.”
That sorting out should have happened before the law was passed at the Statehouse – where, it should be noted, no such gun mandate applies.