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Victory: Kansas LP succeeds in changing local open carry laws in Kansas, sues holdouts

Thanks to the efforts of the Libertarian Party of Kansas, gun owners who were prohibited by their local governments from openly carrying firearms are now free to open carry in their cities.

Two years ago, the Kansas LP began its efforts to bring restrictive city laws into compliance with state law allowing the open carry of firearms, and their work has paid off in three cities so far: Overland Park, Gardner, and Wichita. All three have since brought their city ordinances into line with state statute. Discussions with local officials in another three cities are scheduled during the next two weeks, and the Kansas LP filed suit against three holdout cities in December.

This simple goal of trying to convince politicians to do the right thing has brought the Kansas LP national media coverage, and extensive media attention within the state.

"People are identifying the Libertarian Party as one of the authorities when it comes to Second Amendment issues in Kansas," said Al Terwelp, Kansas LP chair.

Recognition of the party's key role has brought new recruits to the Kansas LP. "People have switched to the Libertarian Party based on what we're doing on this issue," Terwelp said.

A statute enacted by the Kansas legislature in 2007 prohibited local governments throughout the state from passing their own laws against open carry. The same statute, however, also allows cities to regulate the "manner" in which firearms may be openly carried. Some local governments interpreted this as giving them broad enough regulatory latitude to ban open carry altogether.

In early 2011, the Kansas Libertarian Party decided to start working to change these overly restrictive local laws.

Earl McIntosh, the Kansas LP's Second Amendment chairman, first approached state Rep. Lana Gordon for help. Gordon then solicited an opinion from the state's attorney general, Derek Schmidt, on how the statute affected local government regulation of open carry. In a detailed analysis of the law's wording, Schmidt concluded that cities cannot use the statute's regulatory provision to prohibit open carry.

A later opinion solicited by the city of Wichita further clarified that any city trying to regulate open carry to the point of effective prohibition is in direct conflict with state law and that local regulatory authority was limited to some specifics of carrying, such as a requirement to keep the safety on.

With clear evidence that a number of cities were in violation of state statute, the Kansas LP began contacting local officials. "We decided to challenge them, and we wanted to do it in a respectful, libertarian manner," said Terwelp. "In most cases, the city councils didn't really realize what the state laws were. We weren't bullies. Anybody who's willing to talk, we're willing to listen."

In addition to the three cities that have ended their open carry bans because of the LP's influence, officials in Junction City and Emporia have agreed to have talks with Kansas LP leaders soon.

Four other cities continued to hold out as of December, refusing to change their open carry ordinances.  This prompted the LP to name them as potential targets of a lawsuit. One of the four, Lenexa, has since reconsidered and will be meeting with the Kansas LP during the coming week. The LP has filed suit against the remaining three, Leawood, Prairie Village, and Wyandotte County Unified Government (which includes the Kansas portion of Kansas City) in December.

"We've told the press many, many times, we're not trying to tell people that they should open carry," Terwelp said. "We're not encouraging them to do anything. We're just trying to make these cities follow the state law."