Politics & Government

Bill Warren says proposed gun bill would have negative effect on his business

Senate Bill 45 would allow people to carry concealed guns regardless of whether they obtain a permit.
Senate Bill 45 would allow people to carry concealed guns regardless of whether they obtain a permit. File photo illustration

The owner of Wichita-based chain Warren Theatres says a bill to enable people to carry concealed guns without requiring training or background checks would, if passed, increase his business’ insurance rates and likely force him to ban all weapons from his movie theaters.

Bill Warren says the current system, which requires a person to undergo training and a background check to obtain a permit to conceal and carry a gun, has worked well. Warren, a lifelong Republican, said he holds a permit himself and allows permit holders to bring concealed guns to his theaters.

Senate Bill 45, which is scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor Wednesday, would allow people to carry concealed guns regardless of whether they obtain a permit. The permitting system will remain intact for people who want to be able to use their permits in the 36 other states that accept Kansas concealed carry permits.

Warren said he’s been told by his insurance company and others that loosening concealed carry standards in Kansas will cause the liability market to react and that insurance rates for theaters, restaurants and similar businesses that don’t prohibit guns will increase.

“Because they’re going to see it as a more dangerous place,” he said.

“At that point we’ll ban all weapons,” Warren said. “I mean, just allowing anyone to carry a concealed carry without any sort of training, any sort of license, is totally irresponsible.”

It will be ironic, Warren said, because he collects guns as a hobby.

“I’m a gun rights advocate,” he said. “I’m a concealed carry permit holder – I was one of the first.

“But once again what I believe in is responsible gun ownership,” said Warren, whose theater hosted a campaign event for Gov. Sam Brownback in July.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said he was aware of Warren’s concerns but called them unfounded. In other states that have passed similar laws, such as Arizona and Alaska, he said, there have not been discernible changes to insurance rates.

“I don’t think it’s going to have an impact on any sort of rate … right now I think there’s probably some miscommunication … on the insurance carrier’s part,” he said.

He said the bill would not affect businesses’ ability to prohibit guns if they post signs on entrances. He also said that Warren Theatres could limit concealed carry to people who have obtained the permits if Warren had concerns.

“He could actually deny service to somebody who is carrying concealed without a permit,” Bruce said. “It’s a property right. He has it.

“If he does believe there’s a legitimate concern about insurance premiums, he could post his own notification to his customers.”

The idea that businesses could theoretically deny service to people without permits is not explicitly stated in the bill.

Despite those assurances from Bruce, Warren said he remains concerned and questions the logic behind a bill that he says encourages untrained people to carry concealed weapons.

Warren said he has voiced his concerns to several lawmakers and they privately agree but will not speak out publicly for fear that their ratings will be downgraded by the National Rifle Association.

“It’s totally irresponsible,” Warren said. “And the legislators, most of them know that, but they’re worried about the NRA.

“I think the NRA’s done a lot of good. I think this time the NRA is absolutely wrong. Numerous business owners think this makes no sense.”

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce said it will not take a position for or against the bill because it preserves businesses’ rights to either allow or prohibit guns based on the owner’s discretion.

Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, said lawmakers need to be sure of the impact to the business community and make changes if needed before moving forward with the bill.

Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, the NRA’s state affiliate, confirmed that her organization would rate lawmakers on whether they support SB 45. But she disputed Warren’s characterization that lawmakers would support the measure based on fear.

“I don’t know if people realize how many of our legislators are actually gun owners themselves and actually members of both the NRA and KSRA,” she said, “… and I don’t think these folks who are principled legislators are voting based on fear; I think they’re voting based on the fact they agree.”

Stoneking said businesses concerned about concealed carry are in many cases allowing open carry, which does not require a permit, and she questioned the difference. She also compared concerns about the expansion of concealed carry to concerns voiced when the state originally passed concealed carry in 2006.

“The naysayers made the same claims: There’s going to be blood running in the street, we’re returning to the days of the Wild West … and none of those things happened. Absolutely none of those things happened. And then everybody sort of calmed down,” Stoneking said.

She said businesses that initially posted signs prohibiting guns reversed course upon realizing that they lost business and that the fears about the policy did not become reality.

“They saw there was no cause for that fear, and they took the signs down,” she said.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.