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City bans open carry in buildings

8/15/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

The Hays City Commission voted 4-1 Thursday to ban open carry of firearms in 12 city buildings and post signs stating the policy.

Despite opposition from Commissioner Kent Steward and two community members, the leaders decided to prohibit the practice. Concealed carry is allowed in the same buildings.

Hays Police Chief Don Scheibler said he supported the ban.

After acknowledging his vote was not easy because he and others might feel intimidated by the public display of firearms in city buildings, Steward criticized city staff for not admitting they were addressing a right granted by the Constitution. The commissioner questioned the possible consequences of banning open carry on city properties.

"If our concern is intimidation, is the next logical step to try and find some way to ban open carry entirely in the city?" Steward said.

He also targeted the justification for the ban.

"While this ban would reduce intimidation, it would do almost nothing to improve safety. The ban on open carry would not stop a madman," Steward said. "(It) also creates a false sense of security. Just because you don't see a weapon, you should not assume no one in your immediate presence is not carrying a concealed weapon, either legally or illegally."

The commissioner said he would have been willing to reconsider his decision in the future if the ban had been defeated and open carry became a problem.

Bill Rymph, who lives south of Ellis, addressed commissioners to support open carry and said he was concerned with the infringement on the Second Amendment.

"I agree with Commissioner Steward that it is a slippery slope that disturbs me. Obviously, I believe strongly in self-preservation," Rymph said.

"Whether or not you have a weapon concealed or open, the same outcome could occur if somebody has a mental problem or an issue," Rymph said.

Chris Miller, another local resident, said city staff should not have used pictures of people carrying an AR-15 firearm in the presentation because it was a scare tactic. Most people exercising open carry have the gun holstered.

"I know that you guys are all smart people up there and all you guys know that putting a sticker on a door is not going to keep a madman from coming in here and shooting the place up," Miller said.

Commissioner Ron Mellick said he supports open carry, but he had concerns about it in a confined area because an individual with a gun could block his path to a door. Mellick would have alternate routes available if he was outside. Mayor Henry Schwaller IV said it was not an easy choice for him, but he supported the prohibition because it was city staff's preference.

"The reason I will be voting for this is because city employees have asked that we do it," Schwaller said. "They said they would be intimidated if someone came into their office, they're collecting money or whatever, and someone came in with a gun."

In other business:

* With Mellick abstaining, commissioners voted 4-0 to approve permanent use of portable shipping containers for storage. Regulations include maintaining the units' appearance and safety, painting them earth-tones or to blend with surrounding buildings and allowing electricity to service the units. The units cannot be stacked or placed between the main building and public streets.

* Commissioners accepted a $1.1 million bid from Mayer Specialty Services LLC to line 9,776 feet of corrugated metal storm water sewer pipe. The work will cover 6 percent of the city's storm sewer pipe grid.

A financing plan was approved to pay for the project. The city could gain $16,000 on its investment if it uses funds from capital projects to pay for the work and repay it with money from the storm water management budget.

Schwaller was concerned future commissioners could opt not to pay for the plan during its five-year installments.

John T. Bird, city attorney, said the city would not owe a third party, and it would benefit the city.

* Appointments were confirmed for local committees. Robert Meier, building trades board; Ron Augustine and Jim Krob, Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course Advisory Board; Tammy Younger, Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Committee; and Elizabeth Innes, Hays Housing Authority Board, were approved.

* Schwaller nominated Mike Konz for the Airport Advisory Committee and Lina Miller for the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Committee.