Can voters pack at the polls? Kansas ‘YES’, Texas ‘NO’

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TOPEKA, Kan. / AMARILLO, Tex. – Texas is telling voters in the Lonestar State to leave their guns at home. But, here in Kansas, the Secretary of State’s office says you have “a constitutional right” to pack at the polls. The only thing that trumps that is if a no weapons sign is clearly posted at your polling place. Under Kansas law, concealed carry and open carry must be allowed in state and municipal buildings unless they’ve received an exemption. Private properties and buildings are allowed to ban open carry, concealed carry, or both at the owner’s discretion. Firearms are not permitted to be carried, open or concealed, in federal facilities. In 2010 Congress passed a law allowing loaded firearms to be carried in national parks although not inside park buildings deemed to be ‘federal facilities’.

In Shawnee County, polling locations include churches, the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, the Air Terminal at Forbes Field, assisted living centers, community centers, nonprofit organizations, bank branches, KTWU Public Television, as well as several rural fire stations. So, for instance, because churches are private property, it is up to them whether or not to allow guns inside their building that serves as a polling place. But, because Brown v. Board is a federally owned and operated property of the National Park Service, those who cast their ballots there will not be permitted to pack inside the federal facility. A county’s rural fire stations are considered local government properties, so those would likely fall under the category in which both open and concealed carry are allowed unless that specific fire station has requested and received an exemption allowed under the state law.

Kansas’ public universities like Washburn applied for and were granted exemptions from concealed carry laws until July 1, 2017 [See Weapons Possession, Section 14 D of the Board of Regents approved policy]. On that date, every public building in the state without an approved security plan in place must permit firearms to be carried inside. Because KTWU-TV is owned/operated by Washburn, guns are banned from the campus and more specifically from the station’s building which serves as a polling place. The short-end of the barrel is this: look for the approved concealed/open carry signage PROHIBITING either/or at the front door. If you don’t see the sign, there’s no need to resign your right to legally pack at the poll. However, it also goes that if guns are banned, it may just be best to leave your’s at home–particularly if it’s completely banned from the property entirely and not just the particular building that serves as your polling place.

Meanwhile, in Texas, officials say there’s no precedent regarding concealed carry and open carry laws while voting. That means election officials can enforce a “no firearm” policy at polling locations. State lawmakers say voters cannot carry a gun within 100 feet of any voting location.

“There can be arguments,” Sheriff Brian Thomas said from his Amarillo, Texas office. “We sit in there and the next thing you know we’re arguing over who to vote for and a lot of things. You just don’t want to put something in somebody’s possession to escalate those arguments.” Amarillo is in Potter County.

Early voting continues through Friday in Texas. Advance voting ends Monday at noon here in Kansas.Note: KCIT FOX 14 in Amarillo, TX also contributed to this story.

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