Local public buildings ready for concealed-carry law

6/29/2013

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

On Monday, when the state's new law allowing the carrying of concealed weapons in state and municipal buildings takes effect, all Garden City public buildings will delay implementing the law for at least six months while most Finney County facilities will just take down gun prohibition signs right away.

Other than the Finney County Courthouse, which will continue to prohibit concealed weapons, most Finney County buildings will start allowing people with concealed carry permits to bring their weapons inside.

However, Garden City has put its 52 buildings and properties on the list to exempt them from the law until Jan. 1, 2014.

During a Thursday night Chamber of Commerce event with local legislators, Finney County Commissioner Larry Jones said the county's decision to only exempt the courthouse primarily came down to cost.

"We're getting ready to do our budget next week. The court came in and told us it would cost $180,000 more to put in security in the courthouse for this, for one door. We're going to have to hire guards, put in a metal detector at the courthouse," he said. "We can't afford to do that at the (law enforcement center) and administration building, so we're just going to take the signs down."

This past session, the state Legislature approved House Bill 2052, which allows people with concealed carry permits to carry concealed handguns into state and municipal buildings unless the building is exempt.

Many local governments have submitted letters to the state Attorney General's office seeking six-month exemptions for some or all of their public buildings.

According to the law, municipalities and state buildings could either take down signs banning guns on Monday and allow firearms in public buildings, or they could seek six-month or four-year exemptions to the law while establishing building security plans that would allow them to continue keeping concealed weapons out.

Randy Partington, Finney County administrator, said Friday only the courthouse requested an exemption. All other buildings the county has that are unsecured will be open to concealed carry as of Monday.

"We don't have the money for what it would cost to put armed guards everywhere. I mean, people are going to be bringing them in anyway. The criminals already have guns and probably already have them in their pocket anyway. The people who have been through the training have the right to have guns," he said.

Partington said signs will go down in buildings that are open to the public that don't already have security to go through. However, he said the county is researching the law's impact on allowing employees to carry weapons at work.

"We don't have an updated (personnel policy) for the new law. We are still trying to clarify what the law allows, what we can and can't do," he said. As an example, Partington said the county may not be able to prevent a worker from keeping a gun in their desk or purse, but it's unclear how to address an employee who works outside in a vehicle all day.

"We're trying to get all that clarified, but it won't be done by Monday," he said.

Right now, county staff is busy with the 2014 budget, Partington said. It could be fall before the employee policy is addressed.

Garden City listed 52 municipal buildings and properties in its exemption letter to the attorney general. Some of the buildings and properties on the list include the administrative center, the animal shelter, Lee Richardson Zoo, Valley View Cemetery, as well as parks, ballfields and the wastewater treatment plant.

City Manager Matt Allen said at this point the city is trying to understand the law.

"One of the things we hope gets resolved over the next six months is how this impacts us because there is some disagreement among municipal attorney circles, League of Municipality circles, and others statewide about applying it. We're trying to reconcile all of this," he said.

Allen said City Attorney Randy Grisell and Police Chief James Hawkins have been tracking the law and will be working on creating and implementing safety plans, as well as trying to determine questions like what constitutes "adequate safety" as stated in the law.

"I think over the next four years, the Legislature is going to have to answer questions, and I think the attorney general is going to be given some questions that he is going to have to answer, as well," Grisell said.

Grisell said the state is leaving it to each municipality to come up with its own plan and it likely will fall on the attorney general to determine if a city's plan is not adequate. The only example of an adequate safety measure provided by the Legislature was putting metal detectors at all public entrances, and possibly even armed security, Grisell said.

"Right now, the most material debate or discussion is what your signs should look like," Allen said.

Just Friday, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced that state and municipal buildings that qualify for the six-month exemption will need to post a different sign on Monday.

In order to make clear to concealed carry license holders that a state or municipal building has been exempted, the Attorney General's office has proposed temporary regulations that would require a modified "No Guns" sign be posted at the entrance to exempted buildings. The modified signs will state that the posted building is a state or municipal building and that it is exempt from the new statutory requirement that concealed carry be allowed.

The old signs, which have been in use for years, still may be used on locations other than state or municipal buildings, but they no longer will have any legal effect on state or municipal buildings on and after Monday.

The new signs still carry the graphic of a gun within a red circle with a red line through it. But the new signs now carry the following verbiage:

"State or Municipal Building

2013 HB 2052 Exempt

On and after July 1, 2013, all persons licensed to carry concealed handguns under the Personal and Family Protection Act are prohibited from carrying concealed handguns within this state or municipal building because either a temporary exemption or adequate security measures are in place pursuant to 2013 Senate Sub. for House Bill 2052."

The city of Holcomb sought the six-month exemption for two buildings, the city shop and city offices.

Mayor Gary Newman said the exemption will help, but the issue for his city is going to come down to cost. For a small city like Holcomb, Newman said, it would be extremely difficult to justify the expense of a metal detector and full-time security guard, considering the amount of foot traffic Holcomb's public buildings see.

"We may have to look at allowing guns in the building. We may not have much choice," he said.

Another concern could be insurance. Based on recent reports in the news media, Newman is concerned insurance companies may raise rates on cities that allow concealed weapons into their facilities. He hopes the Legislature takes a look at the issue.

Newman said Holcomb may try to get the longer, four-year exemption called for in the law because it would go a long way to help in budgeting for a potential large capital expense like a metal detector.

"It's a double-edged sword. If insurance rates go up, we're in trouble. If we choose to do a metal detector, it's going to be expensive," Newman said. "It's a tough one. I certainly support people's rights to have firearms, but when it comes to smaller cities, I'd be more excited about this if it was left to cities instead of to a state government decision."

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