For more than 25 years, the many local businesses in historic Westport have worked closely with the city of Kansas City and the Kansas City Police Department to ensure that people coming to the most authentic and pedestrian-oriented part of Kansas City feel safe. Such efforts have taken on many forms and multiple partnerships over the years, and most of these undertakings have proved successful — until just recently.
Unfortunately, the 150-plus locally owned and operated small businesses that fill Westport’s historic storefronts and line its narrow streets now have to deal with the fallout from our state’s new law that allows the carrying of concealed firearms in public places, including city streets where crowds gather late at night.
Recent state legislation has put Kansas City’s favorite and most venerable entertainment district between a rock and a hard place. We have long worked with the city to cordon off Westport’s core streets late at night on weekends in order to check IDs and ensure that everyone coming in to enjoy the district at that time of night is 21 or older.
Now that carrying firearms on the streets is legal for just about everyone, the threat of violence in Westport has become more real and pronounced. It cannot be mitigated by simply adding more police officers and security personnel. If we are to turn away this new and potentially deadly threat to Westport as we know it, we must think outside of the box. We must do whatever is possible to keep our patrons, visitors, neighbors and employees safe.
Localization — or privatization — of short portions of Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue through closing streets during the late night hours (11 p.m. to 4 a.m.) on the weekends and during the larger Westport special events such as St. Patrick’s Day will allow security personnel to scan for and disallow weapons in the entertainment district during the late night and early morning hours when gunplay has become a serious concern.
In the world that we live in today, and especially here in Missouri, the vast majority of people understand that keeping large crowds in confined spaces safe should be a primary objective. Almost all sports stadiums, airports, most government buildings (including City Hall) and even some amusement parks now regularly scan for weapons before anyone can enter. Why should the narrow historic streets of Westport be treated any differently with regards to prohibiting firearms when large crowds gather to socialize?
Our proposal to privatize (and pay to care for) portions of Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue through street closing will not in any way change the way the streets function during daylight and early evening hours. The only difference is that firearms will be prohibited and those wishing to enter the already-closed streets (late at night or during major festivals) will have to be scanned for weapons.
If another legal way to keep guns out of the large crowds that gather in Westport several nights each week existed, the businesses and property owners in Westport would readily embrace it. Unfortunately, no other option has been found.
Privatization of these small streets in order to prohibit weapons needs to move forward before more young lives are lost and Westport as we now know it is gone forever.
Franklin D. Kimbrough is executive director of the Westport Regional Business League.