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No federal charges in Augusta graduation shooting; state charges still possible

Augusta High School graduation shooting

Augusta police chief Tyler Brewer discusses shootings at Augusta High School graduation ceremony. (Video by Beccy Tanner)
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Augusta police chief Tyler Brewer discusses shootings at Augusta High School graduation ceremony. (Video by Beccy Tanner)

A man who wounded himself and a bystander when his gun discharged at Augusta High School’s graduation ceremony on Sunday won’t face federal charges under the Gun-Free School Zones Act, a government spokesman said Monday.

However, state charges remain a possibility, police said.

The case highlights some gray areas created by new laws the Legislature has passed to substantially expand Kansas residents’ ability to carry concealed weapons.

.380Caliber of the bullet that went through gun owner’s foot and wounded a bystander 50 feet away

The Augusta man, whose identity has not yet been made public by police, shot himself in the foot and injured a bystander – a 28-year-old woman about 50 feet away – when the .380-caliber pistol he had hidden in his sock went off during graduation at Augusta High School’s Hillier Stadium.

Police said the gun discharged as the man tried to adjust its position in his sock because it had become uncomfortable for him.

Augusta police chief Tyler Brewer discusses shootings at Augusta High School graduation ceremony. (Video by Beccy Tanner)

On Monday, a police spokeswoman said the shooting victim was treated at a hospital and released. She said the gun owner also went to the hospital. Police had no information on his condition Monday.

Exception to school law

The federal gun-free school zones law generally prohibits carrying a weapon on school grounds and within 1,000 feet of a school.

However, there is an exception allowing holders of state-issued concealed-carry permits to carry their weapons in school zones, said John Ham, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Kansas City, Mo.

Because the man whose gun went off has a Kansas concealed-carry permit, he cannot be prosecuted under the federal law for bringing the gun into the stadium, although the stadium was posted as a gun-free area, Ham said.

The federal law also prohibits anyone from “knowingly or with reckless disregard for the safety of another, to discharge or attempt to discharge a firearm … at a place that the person knows is a school zone.”

I don’t think that can meet the prosecution threshold.

John Ham of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

However, Ham said that section probably doesn’t apply, because the man didn’t intend for the gun to go off. Although it could be argued that the man acted recklessly, “I don’t think that can meet the prosecution threshold,” Ham said.

The man could, however, face charges under state law, officials said. A police spokeswoman said the case is being submitted to the Butler County Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution.

County Attorney Darrin Devinney said late Monday he had not yet received the case from police.

A gray area

The state Legislature has made several significant changes to loosen gun laws in the past three years.

Members of the public are now allowed to carry concealed weapons, no permit required, in almost all public places, including city, county and state government buildings that are not secured with metal detectors and guards.

Last week, Gov. Sam Brownback signed a law allowing all public employees who are eligible to own a gun to carry their personal weapons to their job sites in the community.

Schools have been granted exceptions to allow them to keep weapons out of their buildings, and the Augusta stadium was posted as an area where guns aren’t allowed.

However, it’s a gray area of the law, said Lori Church, a lawyer with the Kansas Association of School Boards.

“I guess the question is possibly whether the stadium could qualify as a building,” said Church, who advises school districts statewide on gun policy. “It probably depends on the interpretation of the statute by the county attorney.”

Church said the association has advised districts that stadiums are buildings and they can be posted as no-gun zones if the local district wants to keep guns out of sporting events and other activities.

However, she said, there are no criminal penalties under state law for unlawfully bringing a gun into school buildings.

All we can do is ask them to leave the premises.

Kansas Association of School Boards

“All we can do is ask them to leave the premises,” Church said.

Contributing: Beccy Tanner of The Eagle

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