Local News Spotlight

Open revolt on open carry? Overland Park to reconsider gun law

Updated: 2012-10-25T02:30:15Z


The Kansas City Star

Overland Park may not be the Wild West of casually holstered six-shooters after all.

Just weeks after clearing the way for residents to openly carry firearms, the City Council is contemplating changes.

The council is looking at requiring those openly packing heat to first get the same permits needed to carry hidden guns.

“The public,” City Council member Jim Hix said Tuesday, “has not been pleased.”

Those complaints about the ordinance passed in September are now prompting the council to rethink the city law that lets resident walk Wyatt Earp-style down the street.

A council committee will take up the possibility of tighter restrictions that would essentially mirror the state’s concealed carry firearm law.

That requires an applicant to be 21 years old, to be a United States citizen, and to successfully complete an eight-hour weapons safety training course. It also includes restrictions based on criminal history, drug arrests, mental health issues and more.

“It is a common sense issue that we have an opportunity to level the requirements and do it in a fairly simple and straight-forward manner,” said Hix, who’s proposing the tighter gun-carry regulations. He leads the council’s public safety committee.

The committee expects to take aim at the issue next month.

Council members voted to allow open carry last month. That move came mostly in reaction to an opinion issued by the Kansas attorney general late last year declaring a city “may not completely prohibit the open carry of a loaded firearm on one’s person, or in the immediate control of a person, while on property open to the public.”

The ordinance was intended to bring Overland Park into compliance with Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s opinion. That was issued in response to concerns raised by Wichita’s city attorney. Although cities must allow citizens to carry loaded weapons, Schmidt found, they may regulate the mode or method.

Yet city officials in Wichita, pelted with gripes like those now directed at the Overland Park City Council, have contemplated an effort to lobby state lawmakers to give city officials more control over how people carry firearms.

Under the just-enacted Overland Park ordinance, gun owners can openly carry firearms in public places as long as they keep the weapons holstered with the safety engaged and within their immediate control. The law applies to all public places, except buildings that have signs specifically prohibiting weapons.

Before the ordinance was adopted, Overland Park was one of the few municipalities in Kansas that prohibited open carry. Other cities such as Shawnee, Olathe and Gardner have allowed the practice.

Still, the council’s decision quickly drew fire.

“Almost universal negative responses,” Hix said.

Laveriss Steadham of Overland Park thinks the city made a mistake to allow open carry of weapons in the first place and wishes that residents had been given a chance to vote on the idea.

“I would love to see some restrictions,” she said of the proposed changes. “But I’m afraid the barn door is open now.”

Another resident of the city, Florence Erickson, said the open carry law, with or without the proposed restrictions, is “ludicrous” in the way it could make guns more commonplace. She and her husband, Gary Erickson, worry older people carrying weapons may have “a mental lapse” or that they may fall victims to young people wanting to steal a weapon.

The decision to revisit the ordinance was not fully the result of such citizens concerns, Hix said, but a change “just adds a layer of protection to the public. I think very few people would find this is a very unreasonable suggestion. But you never know.”

Earl McIntosh, Second Amendment coordinator for the Kansas Libertarian Party, said Tuesday the proposed change would add confusion because the ordinance would vary from one city in Kansas to another.

“Our biggest concern is for uniformity,” McIntosh said. “Overland Park needs to let this ride for a little bit and find out there is going to be no problem.”

McIntosh insisted that citizens who carry openly are law-abiding. He expects a legal challenge if the Overland Park proposal moves forward.

Council member Dan Stock said the council didn’t enact the new ordinance because it wanted to clear the way for people to carry guns in the city. Rather, the council was shooting only to comply with state law — freshly clarified by the attorney general — to avoid a potentially lengthy legal battle. Still, before changing Overland Park’s gun rules again, Stock said he wanted to hear from Police Chief John Douglass and gather more information.

Some residents have expressed concern about the notion of a gun owner openly carrying a holstered firearm.

“People who would see that would be concerned and might be somewhat intimidated by a person doing that,” said Paul Lyons, the only council member to vote against the initial change.

Lyons said requiring a concealed carry permit would ensure that those who openly carry would have the proper training. He also said there’s no reason for a person to need to openly carry in Overland Park.

“It certainly is not for self-protection,” he said, “because if they wanted it for protection, they would have the option of obtaining a concealed permit.”

The Star’s Matt Campbell contributed to this report. To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or email grice@kcstar.com.

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