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Thursday, September 27, 2012 9:11 PM

Open carry triggers old gun debate

By CRYSTAL HERBER, Herald Staff Writer

Openly carrying guns in Kansas is legal.

And the state’s top law enforcement official isn’t keen on changing that fact.

But open carry’s legality hasn’t stopped officials like Marie Seneca, Pomona mayor, from worrying.

“[Pomona is a] small town — particularly being the mayor — tempers, volatile situations, people that exercise very poor self-control and other circumstances,” she said. “It would terrify me to think what someone would do.”

While open carry concerns her, Seneca said, the Pomona City Council would adhere to state statute, which recently was affirmed by an opinion passed down by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

The statute, passed in 2007, “prohibits a city or county from regulating the manner of openly carrying a loaded firearm on one’s person ... while on public owned property” as long as the holstered weapon is in plain view with the safety on. The open-carry firearm does not have to be licensed, and no permit is necessary to openly carry. Other people may choose to take the necessary training to obtain a concealed-carry permit. Private businesses may choose to post “no gun” signs, which restrict weapons being allowed inside.

The Kansas City suburb of Overland Park responded to Schmidt’s opinion by passing an ordinance that expressly allows open carry in the city, but places certain restrictions on those carrying the weapons. No such ordinance is scheduled to go before the city council in Pomona, a smaller Franklin County town that does not have its own law enforcement, and instead contracts protection services with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

While some gun control advocates have blamed guns for the majority of violent crimes in the country, nonfatal gun violence has decreased in recent years, according to Bureau of Justice statistics. Incidents involving a firearm represented 7 percent of the 5.1 million violent crimes of rape and sexual assault, robbery and aggravated and simple assault in 2008. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, between 2006 and 2010, 47,856 people were murdered in the U.S. by firearms, more than twice as many as were killed by all other means combined.

Data about whether those crimes were committed by people with licensed, legally owned guns was not available.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation reported no murders in 2011 in Franklin County, but noted a total of 63 violent crimes. The state itself saw 116 murders in 2011 with more than 10,000 violent crimes. Because Kansas has a lower crime rate than other states, at least one Kansas House of Representative candidate said he thinks residents’ security would be improved if more people openly carried weapons in public.

“I would feel more safe if there were [just] open carry as opposed to conceal and carry,” Caleb Correll, Democratic candidate for the 59th district, said. “You never know what somebody might be concealing. But if they were open carry, I would feel fine.

“Most people who would open carry are usually trained with firearms, and they are mostly law-abiding citizens,” he said. “In fact, I would probably feel a little bit more safe if somebody were open carrying around me.”

An Ottawa native, Correll said he is a supporter of the Second Amendment and is in favor of cities making ordinances to suit their needs, like in the case of Overland Park.

“I’m pretty OK with the open-carry laws, and if any individual city wants to make their own open- carry laws to suit their own needs, I have no problem with that,” he said.

Ottawa has no plans to develop any such ordinance, Mayor Blake Jorgensen said, but the city will follow Kansas state law if the issue is presented.

“If it was brought before us, we would definitely consider it, but I don’t know that there’s really been any pressure to do that much in the city,” Jorgensen said.

Residents openly carrying firearms for personal safety would not prevent the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office from doing its duties, Jerrod Fredricks, sheriff’s office master deputy, said.

“Basically, they can carry it in plain view or open view, not covered by clothing,” he said. “[Open carry] allows law enforcement just by a look to tell who’s armed and who isn’t, so that doesn’t hinder us at all.”

Fredricks noted those with concealed-carry firearms are supposed to tell law enforcement they are carrying when they come into contact.

It’s possible, Fredricks said, a person who openly carries a firearm could serve as a deterrent to those who might commit a crime — a benefit in a world where law enforcement cannot be everywhere at once.

But will recent attention to an old law cause people to stock up on guns and ammunition?

Since residents have had the right to openly carry guns for several years, Fredricks said, he doesn’t think many people will suddenly start packing heat.

“I believe that most people know that they can carry a firearm openly; it’s just been they couldn’t conceal the weapon unless they had a permit,” he said. “So I don’t know that we’ll see a huge influx of people flocking around with a firearm on their side.”

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