Beginning next year, all of the city’s 20-plus public buildings will allow concealed firearms.
Jan. 1 marks the end of the city’s exemption to the state concealed carry law, and with it the ability to ban firearms with only a sticker on the door. If the city wants to prohibit concealed weapons from spaces such as City Hall, the Lawrence Public Library or the Municipal Court, it must provide much more security.
“Our exemption expires at the end of the year,” City Attorney Toni Wheeler said. “And we are not going to be in a position to ban concealed carry in public buildings, including Municipal Court, because we won’t have those adequate security measures as defined by that statute in place.”
The Kansas concealed carry law, the Personal and Family Protection Act, allows people to have concealed weapons in public buildings that don’t provide “adequate security measures.” Specifically, Wheeler said the law would require city buildings to have metal detectors and security guards in place.
Mayor Leslie Soden said she's open to discussion about adding such security to some city buildings, but that the city’s budget is key in that consideration.
“I’d like to learn more about it,” Soden said. “Of course, cost is a real factor to consider for those items.”
Even for just a handful of buildings, those equipment and personnel costs would amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Estimates made last year said that to equip four of the most frequently visited city buildings — City Hall, Municipal Court, the library and the police department’s Investigations and Training Center — would cost between $530,000 and $895,000, depending on personnel salaries.
Although Wheeler said the city does not have plans to add the security required by state law to any of its buildings for Jan. 1, some plans for the Municipal Court are in motion for the future.
The city’s 2018 capital improvement plan includes $114,600 for “adequate security measures,” which Finance Director Bryan Kidney said would include walk-through metal detectors, metal detector wands and baggage-screening machines. There is also $49,000 allocated in next year’s operational budget for an additional part-time security guard position at Municipal Court.
Wheeler said the CIP equipment funds are more of a “placeholder” but that the city is preparing to fill the security guard position in order to have two armed security guards available for the court at the beginning of the year. The city leases the Municipal Court building, and Wheeler said if the city is able to relocate the court, the CIP funds provide the opportunity to meet the state requirements to ban concealed weapons.
There are already metal detectors and guards at the entrance of the county-owned building that houses the Douglas County District Court and the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, which is one of three buildings used by the Lawrence Police Department.
Soden said that the Municipal Court and the police department’s Investigations and Training Center, because of their nature, are buildings to which the city has considered adding the security that is needed to ban concealed weapons. As far as recreational buildings, such as the public library, Soden said she is more hesitant.
“I know there are some people really concerned about it, but that’s quite a message to be sending at the library if we feel like we need to put metal detectors there,” Soden said.
But Soden said her opinions aren’t set in stone, and she wants to hear what city staff thinks about what is needed. Above all, she said she is most interested in consolidating buildings, such as law enforcement or courts, to save on security and other costs.
“That’s what I’m most looking forward to talking about,” Soden said.
City Manager Tom Markus has proposed consolidating multiple city facilities to operate more efficiently, including combining courts and law enforcement facilities. Wheeler said she doesn’t currently have an update on those plans but that she thinks some public discussions of consolidations will be coming up fairly soon.
If so, the city will have some options. Wheeler said the $114,600 would be enough to purchase security equipment for multiple buildings, but that if the city wants to ban concealed weapons at any location, it would also need to allocate more money to fund security guards. She said that would have to budgeted for in advance, likely as part of the annual budget process.
“It’s not a small price tag, so it would require some planning,” Wheeler said.
Regardless, Wheeler said the city still has the ability to regulate the open carry of weapons, and the city attorney’s office is planning to bring a recommendation to the City Commission to do so before the end of the year.