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Johnson County commissioners implement reckless gunfire ordinance for unincorporated areas

Matt Keys.jpeg
Posted at 11:43 AM, Aug 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-27 12:35:55-04

OLATHE, Kan. — Gun owners in unincorporated areas of Johnson County will now be held accountable for stray bullets that leave their property.

On Thursday, Johnson County commissioners unanimously approved the ordinance, which allows authorities to issue a citation of $500 to $1,000.

Similar ordinances already existed within city limits, but not for unincorporated areas of Johnson County.

It all started with Katie and Matt Keys, after their home in Stilwell was hit by four bullets last year.

One of the bullets went through their kids playroom.

The shooters were identified but never held accountable because Kansas state law requires proof of reckless and intentional conduct.

“No laws were broken. Not even a noise ordinance violation,” Matt Keys said during the meeting. “I would get in more trouble letting my dog off a leash at a Stilwell park.”

When the I-Team spoke with Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden in July, he said his hands were tied because no local ordinances were on the books.

"This will give us the ability to hold a land owner accountable for what goes on on their property," Hayden said.

Katie Keys said she often loses sleep wondering what her life would be like if her children or husband died the day their home was hit by gunfire.

For the past year, the Keys have met with county and state leaders to push for stronger legislation.

"It lit a fire in me," Katie Keys said. "It was a catalyst for me to push for change and fight."

Matt Keys said victims now have a voice.

"Victims no longer need to feel helpless," Matt Keys said. "This gives victims hope — we were hopeless for awhile there because there was nothing they can do."

Hayden said while the new ordinance is limited to a civil citation, charges could be filed in cases where a gun owner repeatedly violates the ordinance.

The Keyses said they're happy to have some safety measures that protect the community of Stilwell, but they're not finished yet.

"It's local first and foremost — which we've checked that box today," Katie Keys said. "We'll couple that with our energies towards HB 2454 in Topeka."

Kansas Rep. Jo Ella Hoye recently introduced a bill that will hold gun owners criminally responsible, as opposed to a civil citation, if a bullet leaves their property.

Additionally, the bill would also make it illegal to shoot a gun within two miles of a school.

"If you live within two miles of a school and you live in city limits, you already can't discharge a firearm there because of criminal discharge in the city," Hoye said.

The Keyses said they want the same rights to safety as people who live up the street in incorporated Overland Park.

Ultimately, they want two things.

"Safety and accountability," Katie Keys said. "I'm from a long line of responsible gun owners, but with gun ownership come incredible amounts of accountability and regard for your surrounding community."