A new law that goes into effect Monday requires cities, counties and higher education institutions to permit the concealed carry of weapons inside their buildings unless they specifically seek an exemption from the law.
Local bodies affected by the law are exercising their opportunity to seek exemptions for some or all of their structures. The exemptions will give the institutions time to study the practicalities and costs of improving security to a level considered adequate to comply with the law without permitting concealed carry.
But even as they apply for those exemptions, authorities acknowledge they don’t know whether they’ll end up carrying out those security steps, or – if they do – how they’ll pay for them. Local K-12 school districts are specifically exempted from terms of the new law, but universities are not. Here’s how affected area entities are responding to it.
The Kansas Board of Regents and other higher education officials expressed their disagreement with the new concealed carry law during the debate this past legislative session. Higher education institutions have chosen to exercise their option to obtain a four-year extension of the prohibition of guns on campus.
The goal now is to develop security measures adequate to meet the law’s requirements. For most campus buildings, that will mean secured entrances. And that, in turn, may translate to a financially imposing hurdle. Officials have not yet formulated a reliable cost estimate.
When the Regents approved their resolution opposing the law in May, Regent Robba Moran of Manhattan indicated it wouldn’t be possible to take care of all the buildings.
“To put security at every entrance in every building on every campus is not realistic unless the legislature is willing to provide a significant amount of money to help universities with that,” she said. Regents are not talking about the prospects of that occurring, but since the legislature just reduced higher education spending the general sense is that any money spent for mechanisms enabling the Regents to exempt buildings from the law would have to be raised via other means.
Kansas State has 80 buildings on its campus. K-State Police Captain Don Stubbings said more than the minimum number of security guards would be needed to accommodate a proper work schedule. Currently, there are 10 full-time security guards and more than 20 police officers on the payroll, he said.
Stubbings said there isn’t a hierarchy of buildings to protect at this moment. He said the four-year extension is to make sure that decisions aren’t hastily made.
The Manhattan Area Technical College (MATC) Board of Directors also adopted a resolution extending the prohibition of weapons on campus up to four years. They would have the same issues of taking care of its many buildings and entrances on campus.
On June 18, Rob Edleston, MATC president and CEO, said the campus already has security and safety policies and has a security guard. But it’s not clear whether those mechanisms would suffice. He said the next steps are to study the cost of meeting the requirements in the statute.
“The logistics of putting those types of measures will run in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years,” he said. “We have to find the source of funding.”
Regents chair Fred Logan of Leawood said the Regents intend to take a deeper look in the fall, first at the board’s retreat in August then a discussion item in September or October.
Logan said it’s too early to determine whether the Regents intended to keep guns off campus for the full four years or advocate a change in the law that would permanently exempt higher education institutions.
“We haven’t discussed it,” he said. “What we’ve decided to do is consider the law and its full impact and determine what we need to do on a building-by-building perspective.”
The Riley County Commission has had several discussions over the new law, all of which have ended in confusion and angst.
About three months ago, commissioners, along with County Counselor Clancy Holeman, began the process of going over the bill. Commissioners know they want to seek four-year exemptions, but they have not yet determined what steps they will have to take and how much those steps will cost.
The discussion intensified when Judge Meryl Wilson came in front of the commission. He said the courthouse was severely undermanned for security, and should be added to the exemption list. The commission agreed and plans to make the courthouse’s security plan one of the first priorities when budget discussions conclude in August. Currently, all county buildings are on the exemption list submitted to the Attorney General.
Commission Chairman Dave Lewis said two issues are paramount. One is employee safety, “especially those working in the courthouse.” But the second question is feasibility and funding. Adding layers of security at buildings is likely to be a costly process.
“One of the things I feel the legislature gave little thought was the financial impact on municipalities this bill would have,” Lewis said. He said he is unsure how much money it will take to meet the requirements that go along with seeking exemptions.
“If we have one metal detector that is dedicated to the entrance, every entrance to a building will have some cost involved,” Lewis said. He notes that Sedgwick County, where Wichita is located, expects it would have to spend around $14 million.
At the moment, Riley County plans to seek exemptions for 44 buildings, about half the number in Sedgwick County. But Lewis said that if push came to shove the commission would “decide which buildings are we most concerned about and decide what level of security we are going to apply to them.” Either way, he said getting the six month extension will give them time to evaluate the situation.
“Some buildings are not of great concern,” Lewis said. The biggest concerns are the courthouse and the building housing community corrections. I’ve heard concerns from staff pertaining to treasurers and clerks offices…offices that are on the front line,” Lewis added.
City of Manhattan
City commissioners agree that securing all city-owned buildings would not only be cost-prohibitive, but also an inconvenience to Manhattan residents.
Commissioner Rich Jankovich said the new law is “written in such a way there is virtually no way to fund it.” He said the greatest expense was not the equipment, but the personnel needed to secure each entrance and exit of every city-owned building.
Mayor John Matta said he did not want City Hall turned into something similar to the airport. He said not enough people come to the city commission meetings, and to have everyone searched before entering, would further decrease attendance.
Commissioner Wynn Butler said increasing security in the municipal court has been an ongoing concern, and the new law provides motivation to move ahead there. City commissioners decided at a work session on June 18 to exempt the municipal court building, 610 Colorado, an action that will prevent anyone permitted to carry a concealed weapon from bringing that weapon into the building. He said other public facilities are not “really” threatened and there is no need to secure all city-owned buildings.
“What do we want, turn Manhattan into a police state; no,” Butler said.
Commissioner Usha Reddi differs. While she acknowledged it would be cost-prohibitive to secure all city buildings, she thought city commission meetings should have more security. Other commissioners expressed concerns for their safety after receiving threatening letters during debates on various controversial actions. Reddi said at the very least, a security guard should be posted at one set of doors to the commission room with the other doors locked, when there were potentially explosive debates.
She said she was not convinced by the argument that trouble had never happened before, therefore; it won’t happen in the future.
“Being a teacher, I’ve heard the word ‘never’ plenty of times,” she said. “Until it does.”
As for the city lobbying state legislators to repeal or change the law, Jason Hilgers, deputy city manager, said he has not yet heard any discussion about lobbying for or against changes to the law.