Politics & Government

Hyatt to ease gun ban for state GOP convention in Wichita

The Wichita Eagle

When Kansas Republicans converge on Wichita for their state convention starting Friday, they can bring along their guns if they want.

The Hyatt Regency Hotel has agreed to relax its gun ban for the sold-out convention, the party says.

“NOTE: for our convention, the Hyatt has agreed to drop its no guns on premises policy! That was a point Chair Kelly Arnold negotiated hard for in the contract,” an e-mailed announcement about the convention said.

The hotel planned to remove its “No Gun” signs late Thursday and put them back up Sunday, said Kansas GOP Chair Kelly Arnold in a phone call from the Republican National Committee meeting in Washington.

The convention is expected to draw 500 people.

“They wanted our business more than they wanted the signs up,” said Arnold, who negotiated the contract. He said the gun policy was a “make it or break it” issue in the negotiations.

“The Second Amendment is a fundamental right,” Arnold said. “This is part of the Republican platform.”

Arnold said the negotiations were between the party and the staff of the Hyatt in Wichita, who gained approval from its “higher ups.”

Amy Patti, a spokeswoman for the Hyatt chain, said in an e-mail that the temporary allowance of guns would not have an impact on safety at the hotel.

“Guest safety is one of our top priorities,” Patti said in the statement. “The hotel has in place appropriate security measures to host a safe event for the Kansas Republican Party, which will make up the majority of occupancy at our hotel this weekend.”

Arnold, who has a conceal and carry permit, declined to say whether he will take his gun to the convention. “The whole point of conceal and carry is concealed,” he said. “We don’t want other people to know if we have firearms.”

Clay Barker, the Kansas Republican Party’s executive director, called the lifting of the ban symbolic.

“A lot of Republicans feel the ‘No Gun’ sign serves no purpose,” he said.

However, Barker doubted many attendees would actually take firearms to the event. He said the temporary change in policy was more about acknowledging that Kansans have the right to do it.

Rep. Jim Howell, R-Derby, has a conceal and carry permit and said he may take his gun to the convention.

“Knowing that they will allow that, I will certainly be considering it,” Howell said. He added that some days he carries, and others he does not. “I’ll never tell anyone,” he added.

Howell said lifting the ban “absolutely” makes the convention safer, adding that gun bans create a false sense of security.

“The bottom line is bad guys don’t care,” Howell said. “Good guys have demonstrated that they can be trusted.”

Rachel Whitten, spokeswoman for House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said the lifting of the hotel’s ban is about the rights of business owners as much as gun owners.

“The Hyatt as a business had a right to impose a ban on their property or lift it,” she said. “They’re a privately owned business.”

Aly Rodee, spokeswoman for Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who will help coordinate media relations at the convention, is comfortable with other attendees carrying firearms at the convention.

“I don’t think I’ll even notice. My dad and brother both have concealed carry,” Rodee said.

Rodee said her boss will not take a gun to the convention; Wagle does not have a permit to conceal and carry. “But she did vote for the bill,” Rodee added.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s office said he would be at the convention but would not say if he planned to take a gun along. Eileen Hawley, the governor’s spokeswoman, called it a “party issue.”

The Legislature approved concealed carry effective in 2007, but businesses and local governments were allowed to prohibit it in their buildings if they chose. Last year, lawmakers expanded the law, requiring local governments to open public buildings to concealed carry or ensure that they had adequate security.

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