On Wednesday, the Kansas Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would allow any Kansas gun owner to carry a concealed firearm in public without a permit.
The so-called constitutional carry bill would eliminate background checks and training classes presently required for a concealed-carry permit, and would make Kansas only the sixth state to authorize a law allowing its citizens to forego the licensing process.
Senate Bill 45, introduced last month by Majority Leader Terry Bruce, cleared the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs last week and is scheduled for final passage in the Senate today.
“It’s our belief [that this bill] will lead to more protection of individuals,” Bruce told the Wichita Eagle last month. “Most incidents, I believe, they resolve themselves with the gun being brandished. I don’t think that it’s necessarily going to elevate shootings.”
Many in law enforcement beg to differ. In Iola, Lt. Steve Womack agrees with many of his colleagues who fear that the continued debasement of state gun regulations will not only make police patrol harder, but will present a greater danger to the average citizens his officers are charged with protecting.
“The main reason I’m against this,” said Womack, “is training. If you can just carry a gun concealed without a permit, people who don’t even know how to shoot a gun are going to be carrying them. At least now, if they have a permit, you know they’ve gone through the process of a background check, and you can figure on these people having some training.”
Open-carry without a permit is already legal in Kansas, as of last year. The pending bill seeks to extend the same right to concealed-carriers.
“If it is perfectly legal to carry a firearm out in the open, then what is so sinister about a weapon you can’t see?” Sen. Greg Smith told the Register on Tuesday. Smith recalled seeing a customer openly carrying a gun during a recent outing to his local Overland Park Sam’s Club.
Smith is one of the bill’s 26 co-sponsors. The measure needs only 21 votes to move to a vote in the House.
Given the Republican majorities, the bill will likely pass through both houses with little friction, before clearing the governor’s desk.
Sen. Forrest Knox, who supplied written testimony to the committee in support of the constitutional carry bill, told the Register on Monday that, while he is sympathetic to the wariness expressed by some law enforcement officials, “it is the duty of elected officials to trust law-abiding citizens.
“If you’re going to carry a gun, the average Kansan doesn’t carry it lightly.” The “gravity” of owning a personal firearm, Knox believes, will impress itself upon that individual to such an extent that he or she will seek out the proper training without having to be compelled by the state.
Womack, though, has the opposite concern — that having a gun on a person’s hip, rather than humbling its owner with its mortal capabilities, will instead make that person feel twice his size, and lure him, potentially, into taking outsized risks.
“When I started out almost 37 years ago,” said Womack, “we had at that time, I think, 10 bars in Iola. We were called to fights there all the time, fistfights. Today, if we had people fighting in there, they’d be pulling out guns. I’m bigger than you are, that kind of thing.”
It isn’t only law enforcement that stands in opposition to the legislation. A supplemental note from the Feb. 12 hearing records testimony presented against the bill by representatives from the Kansas Chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Kansas Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, as well as written testimony from a representative of the City of Overland Park, Sen. Smith’s home district.
Prior to the hearing, the Kansas Chapter of Moms Demand Action — an organization formed in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary — released this statement: “As Kansans and parents, we are terribly concerned about dismantling Kansas’s concealed carry licensing system…. [I]t’s just common sense that felons, domestic abusers, and people who haven’t been adequately trained shouldn’t be able to carry loaded guns around our children. Getting rid of this important safeguard would be a dangerous step in the wrong direction.”
According to the same supplemental, appearing alongside Sen. Bruce at the hearing, in support of the bill, were representatives from the National Rifle Association, the Kansas State Rifle Association and the National Association for Gun Rights.
The state’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, also sent a letter to the committee chairman indicating that while “it is difficult to know what the precise effect would be on the number of concealed carry handgun initial and renewal applications…there would likely be a decline, which would reduce agency revenue.” A state concealed carry permit costs $132.50. Local governments, too, according to Sullivan, “could experience a loss in revenue due to a decline in applications.”
According to both Smith and Knox, even if the bill passes, the permit-granting system will remain in place, and Kansans wanting to travel to a neighboring state with their hidden firearm would still require a permit to do so. Neither senator anticipates measurable loss of revenue.
But that isn’t what concerns Womack. “The heck with the money. For me, it’s about safety.” Womack has been a member of the Iola Police Department since 1978. “I was the youngest officer to ever start here. I was 20 — couldn’t buy my own bullets. I’ve been here long enough to know that 90 percent of the people here in Iola would be just fine handling whatever law was passed, but there’s always going to be a small group…. And there you’re just asking for trouble.”
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