Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton was a bit taken aback recently when he saw a man in a local store wearing a pistol on his hip. He was soon reminded of the change in state law that allows people to openly carry weapons.
Walton said since then his department has had a couple of calls from people who saw others carrying pistols openly inside businesses.
"It is getting scary," Walton said. "I think we are going to see more and more of this type of thing."
A recent state attorney general opinion clarified the "open carry" law. While cities may not completely ban the carrying of weapons, they may place some restrictions on the manner in which a weapon is carried.
The open carry rule applies only to pistols, and they have to be in a holster and the safety must be on. It is still not legal to walk down the street with a loaded rifle. Businesses have the right to not allow weapons - or guns - in their establishment, but other than that, it is legal to carry a weapon in public.
Both Walton and Newton Police Chief Jim Daily said that while it is legal, if an officer spots someone carrying a weapon openly, they will be questioned to find out why it is being carried.
Daily said if an officer in Newton sees someone carrying a weapon, they will question the person.
"If they are not doing anything wrong, or don't have a history that would prevent them from having a weapon, then there is nothing we can do about it," Daily said.
He noted that businesses have the option of posting signs prohibiting weapons, and they can also ask a person to leave their business.
"There is a time and place to have a weapon. Walking around town in stores might not be appropriate. If people want to do that they need to understand that law enforcement will be checking into why they are doing so," Daily said.
Daily said he is a proponent of concealed carry and thinks it can be a deterrent to crime. Walton and Daily both prefer the idea of concealed carry.
"You attract unwanted attention by advertising you have a weapon. If anyone wants to carry a weapon I recommend they get a concealed carry permit," Daily said.
Walton noted a person has to take a class to get a concealed carry permit, and that means they at least have had a minimal amount of safety instruction. They have also passed a background check.
Open carry is different as no permits are required. People may also go to gun shows and get guns with very little record keeping being done, and no background check is required to make the sale.
Walton was concerned last year when the state considered allowing guns to be carried in courtrooms and courthouses.
"If you provide security you can say no guns. They realized that counties cannot afford all the security equipment," Walton said as to why the proposal didn't pass.
But open carry is a concern of law enforcement officials.
"My greatest fear is people getting in an argument and an innocent person getting shot," Walton said, adding that he hopes people who carry weapons have respect for the weapon and act responsibly.
Wes McClellan, an employee of Patriot Pawn in Newton, said there are several reasons a person might carry a weapon openly, especially in rural areas like Kansas.
If you are out in the rural areas, you might want a gun to kill a snake, or to ward off some other animal that could pose a danger. He did caution that it is not legal to openly carry a weapon inside a vehicle without a concealed weapon permit.
"If you have a weapon out in the open in a vehicle, that is considered a concealed weapon," he said.
To legally have a gun in a vehicle you must have a concealed carry permit, or have the weapon stored or in a place where it is not easily accessible. If it is in a case, a box or broken down in some way, it is legal. The state law says it must not be "reachable" by the driver, which protects police officers making a traffic stop.
Even though there may be more people carrying guns, Walton said he has not seen an increase in gun-related crimes in Harvey County. There have been instances where they have been in a car chase with someone who had a weapon, but the weapon was not used. There were some recent chases both here and in other counties where people were involved with meth and had weapons, as well.