Majority favors gun-free courthouse

Register City Editor

Despite an outpouring of support to do so, Allen County commissioners declined to take decisive action Tuesday morning to keep concealed firearms out of the courthouse.
During a near hour-long hearing, all but three, including one from Wichita, of about 35 people attending the session raised their hands to say they wanted the courthouse firearms-free. Commissioners also received 20 e-mails; 17 encouraged them to keep firearms out of the courthouse.
Bill King, director of Public Works, told commissioners he had polled department heads, all of whom wanted a gun-free environment.
“If you want to make me feel secure, put up metal detectors (at courthouse doors),” King said.
The hearing was called after commissioners were told a month ago that signs prohibiting concealed weapons were of improper size to enforce a ban.
Here’s what has happened the past several years:
For years, county courthouses have been off-limits to firearms, except those carried by law enforcement officers. In 2006, the Kansas Legislature made concealed carry legal, exempting courthouses and many other public places. Two years later the law was amended to read that appropriate-size signs had to be in place to enforce the exemptions.
Previous law that prohibited guns in courthouses is applicable, however, regardless of a sign’s dimensions.
Commission Chairman Dick Works, after hearing what citizens had to say and thumbing through e-mails, made a motion to make the courthouse a gun-free zone by posting appropriate signs. Neither Rob Francis nor Gary McIntosh seconded the motion.
Comments construed by Francis that he opposed prohibition of weapons in the courthouse got his dander up.
“I’m offended that people think I had my mind made up,” Francis said. “I wanted a hearing to get input from citizens. I agree the courthouse is not a place for guns.”
But, he apparently didn’t feel strongly enough to take action.
McIntosh also said he thought people needed a chance to express themselves and that he wasn’t aware until a few days ago that his daughter, Susan Booth of Moran, would be one of two at the hearing to speak in favor of permitting courthouse visitors to be armed. The other was Patricia Stoneking, a concealed carry and gun rights advocate and Kansas Second Amendment Society member from Wichita.

BOOTH CLAIMED no-gun zones were the most dangerous of public places and that she didn’t understand why a person so licensed could carry a concealed weapon in a Wal-Mart store and not the Allen County Courthouse.
Stoneking contended that people who carry concealed weapons were “reasonable, level-headed people who hope they never have to use a gun to protect themselves,” but want the option. She opined that “no-gun” signs are the same as “placing a bull’s eye on a building,” by telling criminals they had a free pass.
For those who were against armed citizens, Jean Barber, retired county clerk and an employee for 30 years at the courthouse, said she could remember feeling threatened many times by “the person across the counter,” and regardless how good someone might be, there always was the chance of “them falling through a crack” and resorting to violence.
Donna Houser, retired teacher, said she was “totally opposed to opening the courthouse to guns” and that she thought police officers were a much better deterrent than citizens arming themselves. She mentioned friendly-fire deaths in battle by troops who had much more training than the eight hours prescribed for concealed carry certification.
Ray Houser, her husband and also retired from teaching, said the often-mentioned Second Amendment was written in 1781, “when we were a frontier nation and had to have a citizen militia. Now we have the National Guard, military forces and law enforcement officers to protect us.”
He also told commissioners he was “mystified by this meeting. I don’t think it needed to be brought up. You have more important things to deal with.”
Mary Ann Regehr, wife of former Commissioner Walt Regehr Jr., said she agreed with Houser and noted that she had “shot everything from a .22 to an M16. I have nothing against guns, but I think it’s a no-brainer to keep them out of the courthouse.”
Chuck Richey, retired and a frequent attendee of commission meetings, said he was one of 97 Allen Countians licensed for concealed carry, but “I don’t think concealed carry belongs here (the courthouse).”
Bryan Murphy, an Allen County master deputy and concealed carry instructor, said concealed carry wasn’t a Second Amendment issue, and that the courthouse should be off-limits to guns. He suggested that eight hours of training — the legal requirement — wasn’t sufficient to prepare a person to deal with the stress that occurred in a life-and-death situation involving weapons. For certification, law enforcement officers are required to complete several weeks of training.
“Leave it to the trained professionals, law enforcement officers,” he said. “That’s our duty, to keep people safe.”
He mentioned when panic buttons in courthouse offices were triggered, Allen County and Iola officers responded quickly and in force.
Walt Regehr said “it’s a common sense issue. I was in the military 20 years and we carried weapons just when needed.”
When he was a commissioner — eight years ending in January — “we got one call, from out of county, about concealed carry in the courthouse. You (current commissioners) don’t have the heartbeat of the county in mind. You shouldn’t cater to a special interest group.”
Regehr also pointed out that training given to concealed carry applicants, including practice with paper targets, was “far different from the heat of battle,” or a critical civilian situation involving firearms.

COMMISSIONERS gave no indication of when they would address the issue again. If no action is taken, it will remain a gun-free zone with signs in place and violators could be prosecuted under laws on the books prior to Kansas becoming a concealed-carry state.