Friday, November 28, 2014

New gun law on target for Kansas

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 4/30/2014

As lawmakers head back to Topeka Wednesday to resume the 2014 legislative session, a new law is on target to make firearms regulations uniform across Kansas.

While local officials were worried about the passing of Senate Bill 447, which would make local gun regulations moot, Gov. Sam Brownback signed House Bill 2578 into law last week with the same regulations contained in the Senate measure.

The House legislation negates many of the firearm rules counties and municipalities now enforce and aims to simplify firearm laws across the state, the bill’s proponents said. The law removes local authority from administering firearm buy-back programs and prohibits counties and municipalities from asking employees to disclose if they own a concealed carry license, both of which were included in SB 447.

The law passed with across-the-board support from Franklin County’s delegation to Topeka. State Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, said he voted for the bill to establish uniformity across the state.

“While I support local control, the patchwork of regulations on this issue was confusing and made compliance with the law difficult at best,” Finch said. “This was one of the limited cases where a more consistent state law was better than the myriad local ones.”

State Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, voted to approve both SB 447 and HB 2758. She supported the legislation to simplify the rules and create a standard for the laws throughout the state when it was contained in SB 447, she said, much like the seat belt law the state adopted in recent years.

“It was just for consistency,” Tyson said.

The law absorbed language Bob Bezek, Ottawa city attorney, said he was worried could be unfairly used to the advantage of municipalities. Section three of SB 447 could give cities a free pass from liability related to dangerous activities by municipal employees, he said. The section 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.”

By adding section three in SB 447, which is now section four in HB 2578, the Legislature might be trying to protect municipalities from responsibility related to dangerous outcomes when their employees are allowed to conceal and carry firearms without notifying the employer, Bezek 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.

Finch said he has spoken with Bezek about his concerns and brought up the bill’s language, which will be addressed during the Legislature’s veto session.

“I am working with [Bezek] and other legislators to find language acceptable to all that still achieves the desired result of protecting taxpayers from the wrongful acts of municipal workers acting outside their employment,” Finch said.

Lisa Johnson, Franklin County administrator, said the county does not have a firearm buy-back program and noted the new legislation would not significantly affect the county.

“There’s a couple of small things,” Johnson said, mentioning the provision that prohibits counties and municipalities from asking if employees own concealed carry licenses. “It doesn’t substantively change the earlier impact for the county.

 “It will impact how we address some of the implications from personal management standpoint, but in terms of buildings and access and the earlier implications, it doesn’t really change anything there.”

The law’s initial measure requires the chief law enforcement officer of a jurisdiction to grant or deny the transfer of firearms certification within 15 days, unless a condition exists that prevents the chief law enforcement officer from certifying the transfer, according to the bill. The practice of the chief law enforcement officer granting or denying a firearm ownership transfer is required by federal law. If the chief officer denies the transfer, the officer must provide a written notification of denial to the applicant.

The law also prohibits people under the influence of drugs or alcohol from carrying a firearm, and makes testing for that violation consistent with testing for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. According to the Associated Press, an official with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is worried about the language of the under-the-influence measure because it exempts self-defense.

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