Danedri Thompson
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Residents can’t carry concealed weapons into city hall just yet, despite the passage of legislation that requires Kansas cities to allow concealed carry in public buildings or provide adequate security to the buildings.
The city of Gardner will request a temporary, six month exemption from the law, which is set to go into effect on July 1. Captain Jim Moore told council members that the exemption will allow city staff time to estimate costs for providing the building security required in order to opt out of the law.
The exemption runs out on Jan. 1, 2014, and by then, city officials must have either a plan to secure public buildings or allow licensed patrons to carry concealed firearms into city hall.
The topic drew approximately a dozen residents, but only three addressed the council, including Rep. Bill Sutton, who represents Gardner in the Kansas House. Sutton urged the council not to request an exemption to the law he co-sponsored.
Sutton told the council that the posters, which denote city hall as a gun free zone, do not save lives. At least one on-duty police officer attends each city council meeting. Sutton asked why the armed guard was necessary.
“If the posters work, you wouldn’t think that would be necessary,” he said. “Maybe the posters are good enough for the staff, but not for the council.”
Richard Melton, Gardner, also spoke in favor of allowing licensed patrons to carry concealed weapons in public buildings beginning on July 1.
Brett Limer, Gardner, asked council to request the exemption noting that the law takes effect only 11 weeks after it was passed. Limer also listed several municipalities and counties that have already requested the exemption, including most of the largest communities in the state.
“State law has provided options to comply and timeframes,” he said urging council to take the exemption.
Council members were divided on the topic as well.
Steve Shute suggested the council allow carry and conceal in public buildings  while conducting feasibility and cost studies of securing the buildings.
Heath Freeman worried that if the city didn’t request an exemption, officials wouldn’t be able to go back later and add security measures if they didn’t request the exemption up front.
“This is the only opportunity we’ll have to review this fully,” Freeman said. “…If we do not opt out at this moment, we can not circle back around. It’s a one-time shot.”
The city attorney, Jim Hubbard, said the way he interpreted the legislation, it appears the council could add security measures at a later date and then exempt the city. However,  Hubbard said that night was the first time he’d examined the law.
Sutton said  once security is in place, the city can exempt itself in the future.
Council member Kristina Harrison supported requesting the exemption. She worried that it takes several weeks to get a carry-and-conceal license, and she said city staff should have an opportunity to get a license before everyone is allowed to carry in public buildings.
“I do believe our city employees should have a right to feel protected,” Harrison said.
Council member Tory Roberts said she was casting her vote against requesting the exemption as a representative of her constituents. She said according to the correspondence she’s received on the topic, Gardner residents overwhelmingly support the law that allows license holders to carry concealed weapons in public buildings.
Council members Larry Fotovich, Harrison and Freeman voted to request the exemption. Council members Shute and Roberts voted against making the request.
City officials now must write a letter to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt detailing the city’s intent to seek a six-month exemption. On Jan. 1, 2014, the city must either allow concealed weapons or submit a detailed plan to secure the buildings and a request for a four-year exemption.