TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas will strip cities and counties of their power to regulate guns and nullify local gun regulations in July, ensuring it will be legal across the state to openly carry firearms and adding to a string of victories in recent years by gun-rights advocates.
Gov. Sam Brownback announced Wednesday that he signed a bill late the previous day preventing local officials from restricting the sale of firearms and ammunition or regulating how guns are transported and stored. The National Rifle Association has described the legislation as a model for states seeking to strip local officials of gun-regulating powers.
"Kansans have long believed the right to bear arms is a constitutional right," the governor said in a statement.
Jonathan Lowy of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said it was offensive for Brownback to sign the measure less than two weeks after a man with Ku Klux Klan ties fatally shot two people behind a Jewish community center in Overland Park and another person at a retirement community. Lowy said the Washington-based center will consider challenging the new Kansas law.
"It is outrageous. It's contrary to public safety, and it's undemocratic," Lowy said. "This is certainly one of the more extreme pre-emption laws that I've seen."
The League of Kansas Municipalities and the Kansas Association of Counties argue that cities and county leaders know their communities best and are closer to voters than state officials.
"The Legislature has shown great disrespect for local control and local communities," said Mike Taylor, Wyandotte County's lobbyist.
Kansas law doesn't expressly forbid the open carrying of firearms, and the attorney general's office has in the past told local officials some restrictions are allowed. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., has prohibited the practice, but the new law sweeps any such ban away, except to allow cities and counties to prevent openly carried weapons inside public buildings.
“I think it could potentially make things more unsafe,” Taylor told 41 Action News Wednesday. “I think just by statistics, the more guns out there, the more likelihood of gun accidents happening.”
Critics of the new law also said local officials have had some say in regulating guns since Kansas became a state in 1861. Lowy said local officials will no longer be able to respond to tragedies like the Overland Park shootings with reasonable gun policies.
“I don’t know how you would react if suddenly somebody came down the street and he’s got a rifle over his shoulder, a gun on his hip and a Japanese war sword over his other hip. It will all be legal under this bill they just passed,” Taylor said.
Supporters of the measure contend that a patchwork of local regulations has infringed upon gun-ownership rights guaranteed by the state and U.S. constitutions. Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, said local regulations create confusion and hinder only law-abiding gun owners, because criminals ignore them.
Michael Kerner applauds the new law. As president of the Johnson County Open Carry, he proudly wears his “38 special” out to restaurants and predicts a public safety benefit when the law goes into effect on July 1.
“Because no one is going to try anything. The more people have guns, whether concealed or open carry, the hard, the more dangerous it becomes for criminals. They just decide this is not a good way to make a living,” Kerner said.
Brownback has consistently supported gun rights, and the GOP-dominated Legislature had solid gun-rights majorities even before the Republican governor took office in January 2011.
Lawmakers in 2006 overrode then Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' veto of legislation to allow Kansans with state permits to carry concealed guns. Voters amended the state constitution in 2010 to clarify that gun ownership is an individual, not collective, right, with 88 percent supporting it.
Brownback signed a measure last year declaring that the federal government has no authority to regulate firearms manufactured, sold and kept only in Kansas and making it a felony for a federal employee to attempt to enforce federal regulations on such items.
"We've really enjoyed great success in taking back our rights," Stoneking said. "Kansas has just really achieved, in leaps and bounds, great gun laws."
Both the National Rifle Association and the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence say 43 states, including Kansas, already limit the ability of cities and counties to regulate firearms, though they vary widely in how far they go. The center says California and Nebraska have narrow pre-emption laws that leave substantial power to local officials and five states -- Connecticut, Hawaii,
Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York -- don't expressly pre-empt local regulation.
NRA lobbyist John Commerford called said Kansas now has an "all encompassing" policy, adding, "The Kansas law is an extremely strong pre-emption law."
Stoneking said supporters are comfortable they're on solid legal ground in protecting civil rights.
"It means that all of the laws are going to be uniform statewide," she said.