Don’t expect Overland Park to become the Wild West overnight.
It’s not likely that a large number of people will strap on holsters and handguns now that the City Council has passed an ordinance allowing the open carry of firearms in public spaces.
Wichita didn’t see that happen when it adopted a similar ordinance in July.
“There have been other cities that have passed this, and I don’t think it will change things a lot,” said Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach.
The new law, passed Monday night, stems from an opinion by the Kansas attorney general late last year that said 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.”
Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued the nonbinding opinion on Dec. 29 in response to questions raised by a Wichita city attorney.
Cities, however, may regulate the way, mode or method of openly carrying a loaded firearm, Schmidt wrote in his ruling.
The Kansas Libertarian Party in February said it would challenge any ban on the open carry of firearms in all counties and cities in Kansas.
The Libertarians started with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., and Overland Park.
“We were happy,” Earl McIntosh, Second Amendment coordinator for the Kansas Libertarian Party, said Tuesday. “We’re glad that Overland Park decided to do the right thing.”
“The Constitution says people have the right to bear arms,” he said. “Open carry is part of that right to bear arms.”
The party is still urging Wyandotte County to change its ban.
“We’re not going away,” McIntosh said. “We’re letting them know that they have exceeded the state law.”
An official with the Unified Government was not available to comment.
The Overland Park ordinance allows gun owners to openly carry firearms in public places, providing that they keep the weapons in holsters with the safety engaged and within their immediate control.
The law applies to all public places except buildings that have signs prohibiting weapons.
“It brings the city of Overland Park in conformance with the state law and the attorney general’s opinion that someone can holster a pistol with the safety on and wear it in the city limits and the public areas,” Gerlach said.
Police Chief John Douglass told the council he thought the new amendment was necessary; otherwise the city could end up in court.
He also said that although his professional opinion agreed with the change, his personal opinion did not.
After all, he said when asked by a council member, the new amendment allows any legal gun owner to openly display a firearm in public. The gun owner does not have to have a permit or have special training.
Douglass also expressed frustration that concealed weapons, which do require a permit and training, are already allowed in public places in Overland Park. The city passed that ordinance, to be in accordance with the state Legislature, five years ago.
“These are the reasons police chiefs stay up at night,” he told the council. “All these issues cause me concern. Unless there is a way the city could prohibit it, there’s nothing we can do.”
Councilman Paul Lyons was the only one who voted against the amendment.
Before the vote, he voiced his disappointment that the new law would allow gun owners to show off their weapons in places such as city parks or malls, given there is no sign on the building prohibiting firearms.
“I can’t imagine allowing people to carry weapons while they’re walking down Santa Fe in downtown Overland Park,” he said. “This city has been named one of the top 10 cities to live in the nation. Allowing people to openly carry weapons sends the wrong message.”
Sandy Jacquot, general counsel for the Kansas League of Municipalities, said she thought that the attorney general reached the wrong conclusion.
She said a previous Kansas Supreme Court ruling on a smoking ban found that there was nothing wrong with a city going further in prohibiting an action as long as it didn’t attempt to authorize something the statute forbids.
Since Wichita passed its ordinance, there haven’t been any incidents related to open carry, said Dale Goter, Wichita’s government relations manager.
The Wichita City Council, however, had concerns about the outcome of the adoption of the ordinance. Goter is asking the council to consider as part of its agenda for the next state legislative session legislation that would return the authority to regulate open carry to the local governmental entities.
“If given the authority, then each municipality could independently decide how they are going to regulate open carry,” Goter said. Previously, it was the primarily the bigger cities that had a ban on open carry.
Gerlach said the attorney general’s ruling clarified the law passed by the Legislature. Before the ruling, the law was interpreted in different ways by different cities.
There is concern, too, that efforts could be revived to allow gun owners with conceal carry permits to bring their firearms into buildings.
“We are trying to come into conformance with the law now, and we will lobby that no additional changes be made to this law next year,” Gerlach said.
There are some inconsistencies, however, he would like to see the Legislature fix.
“One of the inconsistencies, for example, is at a school on 135th Street, they can post ‘No Weapons’ in an athletic facility at a game,” Gerlach said. “Right across the street at our soccer park, this law bans us from posting ‘No Weapons’ in our soccer park or in our Deanna Rose Farmstead.
“I would hope the Legislature is more consistent in protecting our children and ban guns in both of those areas as they do in the schools.”
Jennifer Bhargava contributed to this report.