- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Senate on Tuesday rejected a proposal aimed at keeping concealed guns out of libraries and community centers before giving first-round approval to a bill stripping cities and counties of their power to regulate firearms.

The measure advanced by senators would void existing local gun ordinances and ensure that the open carrying of firearms is legal across the state, though cities and counties still could keep them out of public buildings. The Senate plans to take another, final vote on the bill Wednesday to determine whether it goes to the House.

Sen. Pat Pettey, a Kansas City Democrat, unsuccessfully sought to use the bill to amend a law enacted last year that allows people with state permits to carry their weapons into more buildings. Pettey wanted to exempt libraries, community centers and community mental health centers - allowing local officials to permanently ban concealed weapons at those sites.

The law enacted last year says cities and counties can’t ban concealed guns after 2017 unless they’ve provided adequate security, such as metal detectors or guards. The Senate, which has a solid gun-rights majority, rejected Pettey’s amendment before advancing the bill itself on a voice vote.

“Our libraries are gathering places within our communities,” Pettey said. “Most of them are tiny libraries around the state. They are run either by one person or by volunteer staff, and they are interested in having their own communities make decisions about what fits their communities best.”

But senators who support gun rights argued that local officials won’t be required to spend any additional money on costly security measures if they simply allow concealed weapons in the buildings. They said library and community center users have nothing to fear from law-abiding permit holders - and are likely to be safer if someone in the building has a gun.

Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, a Grinnell Republican, said the no-concealed-guns signs that have been common at public buildings “will never save a life.”

“All it does is help the criminal come in,” Ostmeyer said.

The Kansas State Rifle Association is pushing the proposals to void local gun restrictions and strip cities and counties of their power to regulate firearms. Gun-rights advocates argue that a patchwork of local regulations confuses gun owners and infringes on gun-ownership rights protected by the federal and state constitutions.

A separate but identical gun-rights bill has cleared committee in the House, but the chamber has yet to debate it. Gun-rights advocates hope a final version of a single bill will clear the Legislature by the end of the week.

“In this case, we’re talking about a fundamental right to bear arms,” said Sen. Clark Shultz, a McPherson Republican.

But critics of the bill say local officials know best what policies work for their communities.

“We talk about, basically, limited government - you know, the government that serves the people best is the government that’s closest to the people,” said Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat. “Yet time, and time, and time again, once again, we want to take local decisions out of the hands of local government.”



Information on the gun-rights bill: https://bit.ly/1fL6xUs

Kansas Legislature: https://www.kslegislature.org


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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