Kansas lawmakers OK bill to void local gun rules

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas legislators gave final approval Saturday to a bill that would nullify city and county gun restrictions and ensure that it’s legal across the state to openly carry firearms, a measure the National Rifle Association sees as a nationwide model for stripping local officials of their gun-regulating power.

The House approved the legislation, 102-19, a day after the Senate passed it, 37-2. The measure goes next to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. He hasn’t said whether he’ll sign it, but he’s a strong supporter of gun rights and has signed other measures backed by the NRA and the Kansas State Rifle Association.

Kansas law doesn’t expressly forbid the open carrying of firearms, and the attorney general’s office has in the past told local officials that some restrictions are allowed. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., has prohibited the practice, but the bill would sweep any such ban away, except to allow cities and counties to prevent openly carried weapons inside public buildings.

The measure also would prevent cities and counties from enacting restrictions on the sale of firearms and ammunition, or imposing rules on how guns must be stored and transported. Existing ordinances would be void, and local governments could not use tax dollars for gun buy-back programs.

Supporters say a patchwork of local regulations confuses gun owners and infringes upon gun ownership rights guaranteed by the state constitution and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Do you know what the gun laws are where you live?” said Rep. Jim Howell, a Derby Republican and the bill’s main sponsor. “If you want to exercise your Second Amendment rights, you’d better be very careful in Kansas.”

Opponents of the bill in Kansas argued that local officials know best what policies are appropriate for their communities.

“We don’t want the feds imposing their will on us. We shouldn’t be doing that to the local jurisdictions,” said Rep. Carolyn Bridges, a Wichita Democrat.

Both the National Rifle Association and the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence say 43 states, including Kansas, already significantly limit the ability of cities and counties to regulate firearms, though they vary widely in how far they go. But an NRA lobbyist said this week that this year’s legislation in Kansas would make that state a model on the issue for gun rights supporters.

The center says California and Nebraska have narrow pre-emption laws that leave substantial power to local officials and five — Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — don’t expressly pre-empt local regulation.

Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, said she’s already been approached by gun rights groups in other states about the legislation and predicts it will spread.

“This bill was comprehensive, and it covered every aspect of firearms,” Stoneking said.

But Jonathan Lowry, director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s efforts to defend gun control policies in court and oppose the lessening of existing regulations, called the Kansas measure “undemocratic.”

“The gun lobby likes to prevent people who believe in sensible gun laws from having a say in protecting their own communities,” Lowry said. “It’s cynical, and it’s dangerous public policy.”

Kansas last year enacted a law to allow people with concealed-carry permits to bring their hidden weapons into public buildings — including libraries and community centers — after 2017 unless local officials post guards or set up metal detectors.

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