The library director said she’s not thrilled, though, that the day could come when she might wonder if a library patron is checking out a book while carrying a concealed firearm under his jacket or in her purse.
The library is one of several public buildings owned by the City of Ottawa that would be required to allow licensed concealed carry permit holders to bring their firearms into the building under new state legislation passed during the 2013 session and signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback.
The Senate substitute for House Bill 2052 enacts new law and amends existing law concerning firearms, criminal law and the Personal and Family Protection Act (concealed carry of handguns). The new law goes into effect July 1.
The legislation allows the possession of firearms on certain governmental property, including municipal buildings such as the building shared by Ottawa City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., and Ottawa Library, 105 S. Hickory St. The law excludes school districts from the definition of governmental property or municipalities.
“It really surprised me, especially with what’s happening in the world right now,” Chartier said of state lawmakers adopting the new concealed carry bill. “It’s definitely a cause for concern.”
Asked about her reasoning in support of the measure, state Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, said it ensures Kansans’ rights provided by the Second Amendment. In addition to protecting the U.S. Constitution, Tyson said, the law also allows people to defend themselves at locales where adequate security is not in place.
“The bill helps protect our Second Amendment rights,” Tyson said Monday. “As you know, that’s a big issue right now, especially at the federal [level]. ... We are trying to protect our Second Amendment rights in Kansas, and we understand concealed carry is a privilege and those rights can be taken away.”
Ottawa city commissioners expressed their concern about the bill as well during their meeting last Wednesday. The commission voted 5-0 to authorize the mayor and city manager to submit an exemption request to the Kansas Attorney General’s Office that would exclude city-owned buildings from the new legislation until Jan. 1, 2014.
Bob Bezek, city attorney, told commissioners the exemption would allow the city to continue to ban weapons from its buildings for the remainder of 2013 while it develops a strategy for dealing with the new requirements.
That strategy might include installing a metal detector at the public entrance and hiring an armed security guard or police officer to be on duty when City Hall is open to the public, Richard Nienstedt, city manager, said. One of the bill’s provisions requires “adequate security measures” be implemented at public entrances of state and municipal buildings in order to prohibit the carrying of any weapon into the building. Lawmakers exempted the state capitol building where they work from the new law, city officials pointed out.
If adequate security measures are not adopted, Nienstedt said, the legislation would require city officials to remove the placards that ban guns from city buildings and allow licensed concealed carry permit holders to bring guns into city-owned public buildings.
“The [Jan. 1, 2014] extension gives us a chance to evaluate our situation and what it will take to comply with the state law,” Nienstedt said. “We could spend money on security for all our community buildings, or just select buildings. Another option is, if the commission decides it’s too cost prohibitive, they could add no extra security, take down the placards and allow people to carry in accordance with the law.”
The cost to install added security measures at City Hall could run between $60,000 to $80,000 the first year, Dennis Butler, Ottawa police chief, estimated.
A metal detector and wand could range from around $5,000 to $16,000 to purchase and install, depending on the quality of the detector, Butler said. Wages could range from $34,000 to $48,000, depending on the type of employee hired to provide security, he said.
A private security guard, supervised by city staff, would cost less than a certified police officer who would be under the supervision of the police department, Butler said.
Numerous city sites affected
The $60,000 low end of the cost estimate would cover the City Hall building during normal business hours, Butler said. But when additional events are factored in, such as city commission meetings, legislative coffees on Saturdays and other activities that do not take place during business hours, the cost for that first year could be closer to $80,000, he said.
Nienstedt and Butler pointed out the cost estimate is just for the city-owned building that houses City Hall and Ottawa Library. The estimate does not include providing “adequate security measures” at other such public-access buildings as the Ottawa Municipal Airport, 2178 Montana Road, the Carnegie Cultural Center, Fifth and Main streets, the City Pool, 419 N. Locust St., Friends of the Library building, 209 E. Second St., public lobby of the Ottawa Law Enforcement Center, 715 W. Second St., Ottawa Municipal Auditorium, 301 S. Hickory St., and Don Woodward Community Center, 517 E. Third St., Ottawa city officials said.
The city owns about 20 buildings, but not all of them are readily accessible to the public, such as the water treatment plant.
While the city is mulling specifics to its “adequate security measures” plan, Tyson contends the law does not detail what equipment or personnel is required in securing a space.
“That depends on how they decide to implement their plan — all the statute says is that they have to have adequate security,” Tyson said. “[The law] doesn’t define adequate security. It’s approximately a 21-page bill. I remember reading through it.”
Contrary to Tyson’s analysis, the law explicitly defines “adequate security measures” as it relates to municipal and government owned buildings.
“Adequate security measures,” as stated in the law, “means the use of electronic equipment and personnel at public entrances to detect and restrict the carrying of any weapons into the state or municipal building, including, but not limited to, metal detectors, metal detector wands or any other equipment used for similar purposes to ensure that weapons are not permitted to be carried into such buildings by members of the public. Adequate security measures for storing and securing lawfully carried weapons, including, but not limited to, the use of gun lockers or other similar storage options may be provided at public entrances.”
Nienstedt said one of the concerns for the City of Ottawa and other municipalities is that the state is not providing any funds to help cities implement these security measures.
“This was an unfunded mandate,” Nienstedt said.
And it’s an unfunded mandate that many small cities across the state do not have the financial resources to address through beefed-up security measures, Bezek said.
“In speaking with city attorneys with some of the smaller communities around the area, they do not have the financial resources to put in additional security measures nor are funds available through other sources,” Bezek said.
Those cities would have no choice but to comply with the law and allow concealed carry weapons in their public buildings, Bezek said.
The City of Pomona also might file to opt out of the law until Jan. 1, 2014, Marie Seneca, Pomona mayor, said Monday.
“We haven’t discussed it yet as a council, but my intent is to do so at the next meeting,” Seneca said.
The council meets the first Monday of each month at City Hall, 219 Jefferson St., Pomona.
“I am particularly concerned about [concealed weapons] being allowed in City Hall,” Seneca said. “By their very nature, some issues [that come before the city council] are very contentious, and sometimes people strongly disagree. You trust that nothing would get out of control, and I’m certainly a proponent of the right to bear arms, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to allow them in a public meeting place like City Hall.”
The city could not afford to hire a full-time security guard or install a metal detector if that was required to keep weapons out of the building, which also serves as a community center, Seneca said.
Ottawa city officials also said putting in such security measures would be difficult to do within the current city budget.
Respect the law
The placards currently prohibiting firearms in municipal buildings would not stop someone from carrying a weapon into the building if a person wanted to, but it does give the city a legal remedy if an incident did occur, Nienstedt said.
“I’m sure there are some who don’t pay attention [to the placard], but most people respect the law,” Nienstedt said.
Chartier, the library director, said the library board also plans to file for the exemption to the law that would allow it to prohibit concealed weapons until Jan. 1, 2014.
“The library board plans to vote on it at their next meeting June 24,” Chartier said. “We’re hoping the Legislature will repeal this law.”
The city will use the next six months to determine if it would put security measures in place to continue to block concealed carry weapons from city-owned public buildings, Nienstedt said.
The city is not trying to infringe on people’s rights, Nienstedt said, but he added public buildings are a unique situation.
“We are trying to find a public safety balance for the community,” he said.