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Kansas House panel expands gun-rights measure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas residents could carry loaded handguns in their vehicles, even without a concealed carry permit, under a bill that cleared a legislative committee Wednesday.

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee expanded the gun-rights legislation before approving it. The measure strips cities, counties and townships of the power to regulate guns and voids local gun ordinances, guaranteeing that the open carrying of firearms will be legal across Kansas.

The National and Kansas State rifle associations are pushing the bill, and the committee's unanimous vote sends it to the entire House for debate, possibly as early as next week. Supporters and opponents expect the measure to be enacted because the House and Senate have gun-rights majorities.

Supporters argue that a patchwork of local gun ordinances confuses gun owners and infringes upon rights to own guns protected by the federal and state constitutions. Language about carrying loaded firearms in vehicles was not included in the original bill, and Rep. Michael Houser, a Columbus Republican, successfully pushed for the amendment.

"I do not have a concealed carry license myself. I open carry at home all the time," Houser said. "This is striving for uniformity across the state. For me to be legal in some jurisdictions, I would have to unload my rounds before I put it in the car."

Houser said his amendment mirrors policy in more than a dozen other states, including Missouri and Colorado. And Rep. Larry Campbell, an Olathe Republican, said people should enjoy the same expectation of privacy in their cars that they have in their homes, where it's clear they can keep loaded guns.

Law enforcement groups back the bill and have worked with gun-rights organizations on its language. It wasn't clear after Wednesday's committee meeting how much heartburn they'll have over Houser's amendment.

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe, at the Statehouse for other meetings, said he hasn't had time to review the new language, but that the concept worries him.

"That creates a huge safety issue, and I think most law enforcement officers are concerned about those kinds of issues," Howe said.

But Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning said he and his deputies assume people in rural areas already can carry loaded guns in their cars, and that cities restrict the practice.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt said he was keeping an eye on the bigger picture.

"I'm not as focused on these debates, where people can carry or in what manner they can carry, as I am on trying to make sure the dangerous people, who have proven their dangerousness, don't have ready access to firearms," Schmidt said.

Local government groups oppose the measure, arguing that city and county officials know their communities best. Mike Taylor, a lobbyist for the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County, which bans the open carrying of firearms, said it's more of an issue in urban areas than in small towns.

"Cities should have the right, community by community, to make that decision for what fits their city the best," Taylor said after the committee's meeting.

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Online:

Information about the gun-rights measure: http://bit.ly/1hSjBtC

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna .