It is now legal to walk down an Overland Park street with a pistol strapped to your waist.
On Sept. 24, the Overland Park City Council passed a new amendment to a previous ordinance that allows legal gun owners to openly carry their weapons in public places as long as the gun is in a holster with the safety engaged and under complete control of the owner at all times. Before the new law, open carrying of weapons was only legal for police officers, security guards and authorized military personnel.
The passing of this amendment means that someone can now walk into a mall, restaurant, park or apartment building with a gun as long as there isn’t a sign prohibiting weapons.
Elise White, an East mom and Overland Park resident, doesn’t think that the new law will greatly affect the safety of her child.
“I think if a situation were to arise where someone was hanging out and there was alcohol, and there [were] firearms, and there were other people, and they challenged each other, there could be trouble,” White said. “But in our normal day to day lives, I don’t think that situation would occur very often.”
Sophomore Becca Zeiger approves the new law because she believes that one should be able to see which people are carrying weapons in public.
“I’d rather see someone with a gun rather than get in a fight and then see that they had a gun,” Zeiger said.
Under the new law, guns are not allowed in schools, city-owned buildings and other places with signs prohibiting weapons.
“We must protect our community’s most important residents – our children,” Mayor Carl Gerlach of Overland Park said. “Just as there are state laws prohibiting guns at schools and school sporting events, similar restrictions at our family attractions are needed.”
As part of Overland Park’s 2013 state legislative program, Gerlach plans to ask the legislature to create restrictions on open carry for the Overland Park Soccer Complex, the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead and the Overland Park Arboretum.
The movement for open carry in Kansas started when Kansas Attorney General, Derek Schmidt, filed a legal opinion at the urging of the Kansas Libertarian Party to the cities in Kansas suggesting that they change their laws to be uniform with the constitution.
After Wichita changed their ordinance to allow open carry in July, Overland Park decided to address the issue.
Under pressure from the Libertarian Party, 11 out of the 12 Overland Park council members voted in favor of change towards open carry. Some people believe that this was because the Libertarian Party was planning on breaking the law and challenging its constitutionality in court. Because the Attorney General told them that it was a case they probably wouldn’t win, the council members may have believed that it would be a waste of city money defending the case.
Paul Lyons, the sole council member who voted against the amendment, had two reasons for doing so, one of them being that he thought that the law shouldn’t change just because the Attorney General had filed a legal opinion.
“His opinion really carried no more weight than any other attorney in the state,” Lyons said. “It’s really the courts that needed to adjudicate whether the ordinance was according to the laws of our state or not.”
Secondly, Lyons felt that it was “simply not right” for someone to carry a handgun around the streets of Overland Park.
“Our city is listed as one of the safest cities in the United States,” Lyons said. “I believe that someone who openly carries a weapon is sending a message that I think is inappropriate, and that message is one that would make people feel uncomfortable, or one to intimidate people, and neither one of those is appropriate in Overland Park in my view.”
Junior Chandler Kline disagrees with Lyons, siding with the Libertarian Party in that every citizen has the right to bear arms.
“I mean, I feel like people should be allowed to carry a gun if they feel like they need it,” Kline said.
According to USA Carry, an online site dedicated to gun laws, people carrying concealed weapons must register for a permit as well as have specialized training. However, by the rules of the Kansas State Legislature, no such training or license is required for open carry. Because training for open carry is not required, there is no way of knowing whether a person openly carrying a gun has loaded it or whether the person knows how to handle the gun.
“There is absolutely no control whatsoever that the state legislature provided to ensure that that person knows what they are doing,” Lyons said.
Although Lyons does not think the safety of the city will be greatly affected, he believes there are still some dangers.
“I don’t expect that we’re going to see a whole bunch of people walking the streets of Overland Park carrying weapons,” Lyons said. “But the fact that it’s now legal, to me, raises concerns that we could find ourselves in certain situations, and I’m talking about the police department. Where they may be called to a disturbance, or a complaint that someone has filed, I’ll say maybe a park, and they encounter someone who is potentially carrying a loaded weapon with them, to me, that raises the stake higher.”