By Bryan Lowry
Kansas public employees who go out into the community will be allowed to carry concealed weapons on the job starting in July.
HB 2502, which takes effect July 1, says public employers such as the city of Wichita can't prevent employees from carrying concealed weapons on the job.
Public employees were already allowed to carry concealed firearms into government offices, with some exceptions, such as Wichita City Hall and Municipal Court.
Now, public employees will be allowed to carry their weapon when they go out into the community as part of their duties.
That means a city code inspector or firefighter, for example, could carry a pistol when he or she drives through Wichita. School districts will be exempted from this provision.
Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, one of the legislation's primary proponents, said this will enable public employees to defend themselves when they leave the office as part of their job duties.
"Why should a public employer be able to require their employees to be defenseless when they're outside on the job?" Knox said. Emergency medical technicians often "find themselves in pretty precarious situations" and should be allowed protection, he said.
"It's the law," Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said of the change. "Maybe the only thing that's important for us to figure out now is a way to let the public know our employees are authorized to carry weapons. It is a change in state law and practice."
Wichita City Council member Janet Miller objected to the policy.
"There's just no need for public employees to carry guns with the exception of public-safety officers," Miller said. "It's possible and probable that gun owners and carriers are inadequately trained to use those weapons and it always opens the door for mistakes that can have deadly consequences."
Law doesn't include private employers
Private employers still will be allowed to restrict their employees from carrying guns. "We keep our hands off private employers," Knox said.
Rep. Annie Tietze, D-Topeka, raised concerns that the law will intrude on the rights of private property owners. She noted the state eliminated training and background check requirements for carrying a concealed weapon last year.
"That means these people have no requirements. They can just carry a gun," Tietze said, saying the man who comes out to inspect your new deck, for example, could carry a weapon. "I'm not saying that any of these people aren't capable. I'm just saying we don't know for all of these people that they should be handling guns and they will be allowed on your private property."
This raises questions about the possible liability to municipalities if an employee, who isn't a trained law enforcement agent, improperly discharges a gun, Tietze said. The only way a private property owner can prevent a public employee from carrying a gun onto his or her property is to post a "no gun" sign, Tietze said, adding that would be an unfair burden to place on homeowners.
There is a risk of misses and mistakes, even for highly skilled law enforcement personnel, Miller said. "Provoked and untrained individuals carrying guns are at even greater risk of unintended consequences," she said.
Knox dismissed this criticism.
"To say that our public employees, that we're worried about them and that we don't trust them is an insult to them. We obviously trust them. We obviously have confidence in them. That's why they're doing their job. This just allows them to protect themselves if it's needed," he said.
Knox said private property owners wouldn't necessarily have to post a "no gun" sign and that they could simply express their opposition to a public employee carrying a gun on their property in most cases. He said he wasn't sure exactly how municipal governments would handle those situations.
"I could ask, 'Are you carrying a weapon?' and I could say, 'I don't want you here with that weapon.' And then you've got a situation, I don't know quite where that goes, probably they could leave their firearm in their vehicle or maybe they say we send somebody back tomorrow who doesn't carry," he said. "I mean, I don't know how you deal with that, but I do know that we're very interested in private property rights and the rights of citizens and they certainly have the right to inquire."
Airgun shooting clubs
The law also includes language that will require school districts to open their campuses to air gun shooting clubs.
The legislation is the result of a dispute in the Derby school district, where a BB gun club was prohibited from holding an event at Oaklawn Elementary last year after using district buildings for 30 years. The Derby school district did not immediately return a request for comment on the bill's signing.
The new law says that school districts cannot bar an organization from using their facilities solely because the activities involve air guns. It also allows students to bring air guns onto campus if they are participating in a shooting club's event. It allows schools to restrict air guns during the school day.
Tietze said that this "totally removes local control from school districts."
Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, who crafted the legislation, said it ensures that shooting clubs are treated equally with other sports and activites. He said he was ecstatic that the Derby BB Club could return to the school, calling it a great opportunity for kids to learn gun safety.
Contributing: Dion Lefler of The Eagle
(c)2016 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)