Lynne Hermansen
Special to The Gardner News
Gun owners and property owners  will now be held responsible for discharging firearms in unincorporated Johnson County.
The ordinance passed 7-0 at Johnson County Board of Commission’s Aug. 26 meeting.
Fines will range from a minimum $500 to $1,000 per violation.
Discharged bullets that leave the boundaries of their property and land on another property without consent or are discharged on a property without consent will be in violation, Peggy Trent, chief counsel and county legal advisor, said.
Trent said the discharge of a firearm is allowed in lawful defense or by a law enforcement officer, however.
Calvin Hayden, Johnson county sheriff, said he received 22 calls from 19 addresses between August 2 2019 and June 13 2021.
“I have received numerous calls of shooting recklessly in the county,” he said.
Hayden cited the incident of Matt and Katie Keys whose home was hit by four bullets—one into their child’s playroom.
“As a grandfather this just frosts me,” he said. “It’s totally unacceptable.”
Matt and Katie Keys both spoke to county commissioners.
They stated they were upset that a year ago no laws had been broken by the shooters, and they would be in more trouble as Stillwell residents for discharging fireworks on their front lawn or unleashing their dog at a community park.
“The landowner and gun owner had more rights than I did as a victim,” Matt Keys said. “The damage to my home could have easily killed me, my wife and most importantly my children and they walked away completely untouched.”
Keys said the shooters were protected from every angle. “As a father it is completely unacceptable,” he said.
Katie Keys said it was a collective plea for change in the future for what has already happened in the past. “No law in my area exists to protect us,” she said. “Doing the right thing has been removed from the equation, and the threat of losing a child is my single greatest fear.”
Hayden said they can’t have people fearful for their children in Johnson County. “I am charged by state statute to insure peace in Johnson County,” he said.
Hayden said they didn’t want to eliminate people’s 2nd Amendment rights and will stand behind those rights. “But we want to promote safe use,” he said.
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Department  has developed a guide for established outdoor gun ranges. In unincorporated parts of the county, a notice of the resolution was to residents, on website, and patrol officers have handed out brochures when responding to firearms calls.
Hayden said the ordinance was needed because it is difficult to define and prove reckless behavior, but people also needed to be responsible when shooting on their property.
“You can’t hold anyone accountable or responsible,” he said.  “We want to hold people accountable if need to and this gives us flexibility in investigations.” Hayden said nobody wants children to get hurt but they also wanted to respect the rights of other people in a way that makes sense.
“That’s what we do better in Johnson County than anywhere is kids,” he said. “That’s why this community is so successful.”
Joe Connor, assistant county manager, said it had been almost a year since they had started their education campaign.
Connor said the county was becoming more densely settled from people converting rural areas to subdivisions, and cities have better ways to regulate than counties for unincorporated areas.
The new ordinance doesn’t address noise issues or limit property sizes.
Steve Howe, Johnson County Defense Attorney, said the new ordinance fills the hole the Kansas Criminal Statutes can’t fill. “What we see in outlying areas is not intentional conduct but negligent conduct,” he said.
Howe said negligent allows a persay violation similar to speeding tickets and will easier to prosecute through the codes department. “Repeated incidents then we can build a case towards reckless,” he said.
Howe said it was a tricky wicket trying to figure out who the person is who is pulling the trigger of the firearm. “Bullets go long distances,” he said. “We have to work really hard with neighbors to give us information to hold offenders accountable.”
Charlotte O’Hara, 3rd District Commissioner, said she wanted to know how the new ordinance would impact the hunting community.
Hayden said statutes for hunting were very clear, but hunters are still responsible for where they shoot and how they short.
“We would have to look at the totality of the circumstances,” he said. “There are times you shouldn’t take a shot.”
O’Hara said she grew up on a farm and never had bullets in houses, barns, animals etc. “So it’s amazing we are having these issues,” she said.
O’Hara said how can bullets be traced back to firearms.
Hayden said the use the marks and grooves from inside the gun to match the marks on a bullet and then go where they suspect the discharge came from.
O’Hara asked had they received a reduction in discharges since the education program started.
“There are still incidents where people are doing dumb things with firearms,” he said. “Hopefully educating we can put an end to it and make people aware of it,” he said.
Shirley Allenbrand, 6th District County Commissioner, said she had received numerous calls and it was brave for people to come forward. “How horrifying it must have been,” she said.
Becky Fast, 1st District County Commissioner, said speaking out does make a difference. “Your voice does impact policy,” she said.
Janee Hanzlick, 4th District Commissioner, said the larger issue was growing developments and density within the county.
“As the county continues to grow and change a lot of people are moving to the unincorporated areas,” she said. “Unincorporated is not the same rules as the city, and we will continue to struggle with continuing education going forward.”
O’Hara said shooting wasn’t just a problem in the county but also city limits. “Just be responsible for the your firearms,” she said. “We don’t want another tragedy.”