Law enforcement officials in Franklin County have mixed feelings about Senate Bill 45 — a measure which would allow concealed carry everywhere in Kansas without a permit.
The House and Senate both passed the bill last week and it went to Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk Tuesday. Brownback, who has signed every major gun rights bill since taking office in January 2011, was expected to sign the measure, political analysts predicted.
Kansas would join Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming as the five states that allow concealed carry without a permit, the National Rifle Association said. Montana allows concealed carry without a permit everywhere in the state except incorporated cities, according to the NRA.
“I am not familiar with the statistics in other states that authorize unlicensed concealed carry so I don’t know how it will play out in Kansas,” Dennis Butler, Ottawa police chief, said. “Having worked for most of my career in a large urban area, I understand the concerns of people who think this is a bad idea, but I have the benefit of working and living in rural Kansas for more than 10 years and understand why many citizens here do not share the same concerns.”
The new legislation would not eliminate the concealed carry permit process in Kansas, Jeff Richards, Franklin County sheriff, said.
“A permit will still be needed if a person so desires to carry a concealed firearm in another state, which honors the Kansas permit,” Richards said. “Currently, a permit is not required for a person to ‘open carry’ a firearm, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm. This new law will allow a person, who can lawfully possess a firearm, to carry a firearm either concealed or open.”
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the State of Kansas Constitution spell out the right of people to keep and bear arms, the sheriff said. From a constitutional standpoint, Richards said, he supports the legislation.
“The purpose of this new legislation, as I understand it, is to ensure through codified law that this right is not ‘infringed,’” Richards said. “The U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Kansas are intended to limit the actions of the government, not the actions of the people.
“My Oath of Office says, ‘I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Kansas.’ As a nation we do not require a citizen to attend a class and pass a test before they are allowed to vote, or exercise their freedom of speech. Why? Because it is a constitutionally protected right,” the sheriff said. “So, based on the question of constitutionality, I support the legislation.”
John Blair, Wellsville police chief, supports the right of every qualified citizen to purchase and carry a firearm legally, he said.
The new legislation also eliminates the handgun training previously required by the state before a person could receive a permit.
Blair did not anticipate the new legislation would cause any hardships for his department, he said.
“It seems that persons that have wanted to carry concealed have obtained their concealed-carry permit and advise us that they are armed when we contact them,” Blair said. “However I do think the background check and the training was a good idea. We will have to wait and see how this works out.”
Law enforcement officers have to treat everyone as if they are armed in today’s world, Laurie Dunn, Osage County sheriff, said. Dunn did not think the new law would adversely affect her department but noted that she thought the handgun training was beneficial — especially for people who had never fired a handgun or do not carry a gun on a regular basis, she said.
The measure had overwhelming support in the Legislature. The House passed the bill with an 85-39 vote, while the Senate approved the measure with a 31-8 vote. All three Franklin County lawmakers — Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, and Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, voted for the bill.
Ottawa chief Butler had some misgivings about eliminating the mandatory training, he said.
“This is new territory for me as a police officer and for most law enforcement officers in Kansas,” Butler said. “Up until now we knew that citizens who carried concealed weapons were subjected to background checks and mandatory training. My understanding is that under the proposed legislation those requirements will be eliminated.
“It is my hope that citizens who choose to carry firearms will practice with them regularly, seek out professional instruction when needed, and keep their firearms in good repair,” Butler said. “Also, I urge them to use their weapons for self-defense only, and not engage in ‘law enforcement’ type activities that could endanger others unnecessarily if gunfire occurs.”
Sheriff Richards did not think the legislation would change the way his department conducts itself, he said.
“I agree that people should be trained in the safe handling and use of firearms. And, this training is available,” Richards said. “However, attempts to legislate good and responsible behavior have not had the desired results. Legislation should never be used in an attempt to replace personal responsibility.
“Law enforcement professionals operate daily with the understanding that anyone could be armed,” Richards said. “This legislation should not change the way we operate, as officer safety should always be at the forefront of our mind.”
Butler offered advice to people who plan to carry a concealed firearm.
“I imagine that we will encounter situations in which citizens are armed with firearms which may add additional burdens for law enforcement to determine if the person is a threat or not,” Butler said. “The police are often criticized for being unfriendly and unapproachable and often it is because they are evaluating potential threats and motives of people they encounter in fluid situations in which they have not gathered enough information to determine if the situation is stable and safe.
“Once unknown situations or potential threats are evaluated law enforcement usually transition into a positive and friendly mode that law-abiding citizens should expect,” the police chief said. “When someone is legally armed it would be my request to them that they inform law enforcement of this fact when they may stop them for any reason; or if they have the occasion to interact with law enforcement, to always keep their hands visible, and not place their hands anywhere in the vicinity of the firearm unless the officer asks them.”
Another important point to note with regard to public safety is that violent crimes do not always involve firearms, Richards said.
“Another aspect to consider is public safety,” the sheriff said. “I have been in law enforcement for more than 25 years. Throughout my career I have investigated many crimes of violence, some of which involved firearms. In very few of those crimes involving firearms did the suspect lawfully possess the firearm.
“I understand there are those who are not comfortable being around firearms,” Richards said. “We have investigated many criminal acts of violence, which did not involve firearms. We have investigated attacks involving baseball bats, knives, vehicles and many other items. A person, who is intent on causing physical harm to another person, seems to always find a way to do it.”
States that allow unrestricted concealed-carry without a permit have seen a reduction in violent crimes, Richards said.
“The statistics I have seen show that violent crime has decreased in states with a similar law in place,” he said. “Vermont, for instance, is surrounded by states which have a much higher crime rate.”
Doug Carder is Herald senior writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org