Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hundreds of public entities take temporary exemption from concealed carry expansion

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — More than 400 cities, counties, libraries, hospitals and organizations have notified the state that they have exempted themselves for at least six months from the new law that expanded the concealed carry of guns, according to records obtained by the Lawrence Journal-World.

That means thousands of buildings and facilities across the state — from city halls to swimming pools — will remain off limits until at least Jan. 1, 2014, to guns held by those with concealed carry licenses.

And in notifying the attorney general's office, some officials expressed displeasure with the law that took effect Monday.

" … this unfunded mandate reflects a lack of understanding of the essential functions of local government and exacerbates public safety problems," said Steven Opat, Geary County attorney.

David Lybarger, chairman of the board of directors of the Anderson County Hospital, said, "Carrying of concealed weapons poses risks to staff and patients and could interfere with our ability to provide care in a timely manner."

But state Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, defended the law he championed through the Legislature.

"The average Kansan gets it," Knox said. He argued that criminals will carry weapons regardless of whether there are `no guns allowed' signs posted. Public buildings should either allow law-abiding concealed carry licensees to bring in their weapons or have metal detectors to ensure no gun gets in, he said.

Under the new state law, licensed gun owners are allowed to bring their concealed weapons into more government buildings in Kansas.

But officials in charge of those public buildings were able to notify the state of a six-month exemption.

Hundreds of local governmental entities took the six-month exemption, including the city of Lawrence, Douglas County, and the Lawrence library, according to documents released by the attorney general's office upon a request by the Journal-World under the Kansas Open Records Act.

After the six month period, officials must allow concealed carry of they can take a four-year exemption if the buildings have security plans in place.

Under the law, public colleges, universities, and many health care facilities can take an immediate 4-year exemption. Lawrence Memorial Hospital took that.

Many of those notifying the state of the exemption said there was no evidence to show that allowing weapons in a building would improve safety and that the cost of providing metal detectors and trained guards was too much.

Wyandot Center for Community Behavioral Healthcare, which provides psychological services to the poor and indigent in Kansas City, Kan., said the waiver was needed "to protect the health, safety and well-being of the staff and recipients of the professional services provided through Wyandot Center and its buildings."

Debbie Erb, director of the Ransom Public Library, said she didn't want guns in the library because "we have many children that come to the library and do not want them put at risk."

But Knox said a `no concealed carry sign' without proper security is an invitation to "someone who is intent on doing evil."

More than 60,000 concealed carry licenses have been issued in Kansas.