Limits on gun toting loosen

Anti-gun-control measure goes into effect Wednesday

Posted: Monday, October 17, 2005

Starting Wednesday, handgun owners won't need permits to carry concealed weapons in the seven Alaska cities where they're still required.

That same day, there will be no more restrictions on keeping a firearm in a vehicle - even if the car is parked on private property where the owner has a no-gun policy.

The thrust of Alaska's new anti-gun-control law is this: Municipalities will be barred from passing gun laws that are more restrictive than state law.

The National Rifle Association, which helped state Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, draft the legislation, says except for the concealed weapon permit requirements, most Alaska city and state gun laws are the same.

The NRA wants to prevent cities from passing restricting laws in the future. It's what the organization calls state pre-emption, and Alaska will be the 44th state to have such a law on its books.

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"We are looking to make it uniform to all 50 states," said spokeswoman Kelly Hobbs from the NRA's Fairfax, Va., headquarters. "Without it, it creates an unfair, inconsistent and confusing patchwork of local firearm ordinances."

Chenault said a law-abiding citizen should be able to carry a firearm wherever he wants to, but in Alaska, that citizen may be breaking the law and not even know it.

"You could leave Homer with a gun in your vehicle and find yourself in conflict with laws in other municipalities just by driving through those municipalities," he said.

The part of the law that most concerns Alaska police chiefs is no longer being able to enforce laws that ban guns from public buildings, such as city halls. That could leave vulnerable the clerks, accountants and other government workers inside, said Anchorage Police Chief Walter Monegan.

"Now we could be in a confrontation with an angry individual demanding to see somebody, and they are armed," Monegan said. "There are lots of people, myself included, we really value our constitutional rights. But if we had the same enthusiasm to also support our constitutional responsibilities, then I would be less concerned over this issue."

Across the state, in Bethel, Police Chief Ben Dudley said he also is concerned that he will no longer have the option of charging people with entering a municipal building with a weapon. But he's more philosophical on the effects of that city law when it comes to stopping somebody who means to do harm.

"If there were people with bad intentions entering into municipal buildings, the law isn't going to stop those people anyway," Dudley said. "They're going to stick a pistol down their pants anyway."

The new law would allow cities to keep guns out of places beyond a restricted access point, such as a metal detector, but the chiefs say their cities can't afford to staff and equip such points.

Plus, "It runs counter to the intent of public buildings to establish the checkpoints," said Juneau police chief Richard Gummow. "In municipal buildings especially, I think that the imposition of that may be contested by the public."

Chenault said his interpretation of the new law is different from the police chiefs. State law now does not specifically prohibit weapons in municipal buildings, but it does in state buildings. If municipalities pass their own weapons bans for public buildings, those laws shouldn't be considered any more restrictive than the state's ban, he said.

Chenault acknowledged that it may take a court challenge to see if his interpretation is the right one.

The police chiefs are less concerned about the concealed-weapons permits. Two years ago, the Legislature removed the requirement for a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but the state continues to issue them. The NRA says those permits are still requirements in seven cities: Anchorage, Bethel, Juneau, Petersburg, Sitka, Valdez and Wasilla.

People carrying a concealed weapon will still be required to tell police about those weapons when they come across an officer. "As long as people are doing what they are supposed to be doing, it will be OK," Gummow said.

Even opponents of the law seem fine with getting rid of the permit requirements.

"I think so far our experiment with no permit concealed carry laws has been a success," said state Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, who voted against the bill.

French said the problem he has with the law is that it puts gun rights over private property rights. A provision says a government or person cannot create a rule that would prohibit someone from keeping a gun inside a car even if the car is parked on public or private property.

"In that tension between the legitimate right to protect yourself, and, for me, the more absolute right to do as you see fit with your property, this tips the balance a little too far toward guns," French said.

Hobbs of the NRA said it was a safety issue.

"What we're talking about is the vast majority of Alaskans who are law-abiding citizens who want the right to protect themselves (when they drive) to and from work and who may even want to go hunting right after work," she said.

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