Sunday, September 14, 2014

State’s gun maneuver draws local questions

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 4/4/2014

In what looks like a win for gun-rights advocates, Kansas is one step closer to neutering city and county firearm restrictions, leaving the issue completely regulated at the state level. But Bob Bezek, Ottawa’s city attorney, is worried and confused by some of the language and additional sections in the proposed bill.

“Why is this law written so broadly?” Bezek said. “I can’t make any sense of it.”

In what looks like a win for gun-rights advocates, Kansas is one step closer to neutering city and county firearm restrictions, leaving the issue completely regulated at the state level. But Bob Bezek, Ottawa’s city attorney, is worried and confused by some of the language and additional sections in the proposed bill.

“Why is this law written so broadly?” Bezek said. “I can’t make any sense of it.”

Senate Bill 477 aims to nullify county and city gun laws by shifting the regulations to the state. It was passed by the Kansas Senate Wednesday in a 34-2 vote. The bill next goes to the House.

State Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, voted to approve the bill. She supported the legislation to simplify the rules and create a standard for the laws throughout the state, she said, much like the seat belt law the state adopted in recent years.

“It was just for consistency,” Tyson said.

Bezek knows the argument for those in favor of the bill is to clarify the law so people traveling from city to city don’t need to worry about what is and isn’t legal, he said, because under the proposed legislation, the rules would be the same in each city.

But after reading the bill closely, Bezek said, he had issues with some of the language, including sections 3 and 6. The addition of section 3 reads, “No municipality shall be liable for any wrongful act or omission relating to the action of any person carrying a firearm, including employees of such municipality, concerning acts or omissions regarding such firearm.”

Bezek said he understands that by adding section 3, the Legislature might be trying to protect municipalities from dangerous outcomes when their employees are allowed to conceal and carry firearms without notifying the employer. But the proposed section could give cities “a free pass” when it comes to responsibility, he said.

“If I’m a clever city attorney, and I sort of think I am, and somebody makes a claim against my city, I’m going to say ‘Hey, we’re not liable,’” Bezek said. “I’m going to feel bad about that, because I’m defense oriented, but I don’t think any city should be given a free pass.”

Bezek explained a hypothetical situation of a police officer somehow giving a felon a gun, and the felon hurts someone. The public would say the officer should not have given out the gun, and would think the city should be responsible. Under the language of the bill, Bezek said, the city still wouldn’t be responsible.

“The city is not liable. Why?” Bezek said.

Bezek also had a problem with the section of the bill that would stop gun buy-back programs run by counties or municipalities, he said. The city attorney said he doesn’t understand why the state government is trying to stop programs that local officials consider beneficial to their communities. Buy-back programs are consensual business deals, Bezek said, and neither the seller nor the buyer should be regulated by state government.

“At its very nature, it’s a consensual relationship. You can’t make anybody sell you a gun,” Bezek said. “The idea is that it’s a consensual deal, so why is the Legislature stopping that?”

If the state is trying to simplify gun laws in Kansas, Bezek asked, why did legislators add two sections to the proposed bill that are not related to that goal?

“The question would be, why would elected people in Topeka deprive a local official from spending local money on a program they deem beneficial?” Bezek said. “Simplifying gun laws doesn’t explain that. The policy rationale for that doesn’t make any sense.”

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