(This article was updated at 9:39 a.m. (1/11/2017) to properly reflect the age at which an individual can conceal and carry guns on college campuses.)
Monday afternoon, League of Women Voters members listened intently as Barton County Sheriff Brian Belinder answered questions about conceal and carry gun laws, and how a law passed during the 2016 legislative session and set to go into effect July 1 is being received by law enforcement. The law referred to will allow individuals over the age of 21 to conceal and carry guns on college campuses, without any training.
When the law was changed eliminating the requirement for training and licensing individuals who conceal and carry passed, Bellendir said he was apprehensive. But through discussions with members of the state’s Sheriff’s Association, his initial concerns have been quieted. There has not been an increase in accidental discharges, nor in aggravated assaults, so it really hasn’t affected us yet.
“I don’t know that it’s benefitted anybody an extreme amount, but by the same token we have not had much of a problem,” he said.
As far as carrying on campus, the biggest danger is a well-intentioned individual getting involved in something they should not.
“Just because you carry a gun does not mean you have police authority, and this is something we really need to drill into these young people,” he said.
This prompted several questions from members regarding when it is legal to use deadly force, and when it is not. Bellendir answered that the primary factor is it is only warranted if the gun owner feels his or her life is in danger, or the life of another is in danger. He also noted that gun owners that take police action, shooting a criminal when their life or another’s is not clearly in danger, or pursuing a criminal, could land them in trouble.
“As law enforcement, we are trained and drill from day one throughout our careers,” he said. “It’s a very, very complicated subject, and it’s something we try to go through in our conceal and carry classes, helping people to understand when deadly force is warranted.”
Conceal and carry classes for licensing continue to be available, and some Kansans still opt to go that route. That’s because neighboring states that allow conceal and carry do require licensing, and also reciprocate with Kansas. By getting the license, Kansans who travel in those states can continue to carry their concealed weapons, he said.
Heroin turning up
Members were also curious about crime rates and drugs in the county. Bellendir said that the crime rate is static for now, neither increasing or decreasing, but the types of drugs being found in the county are changing.
“We have heroin showing up in Barton County, something that has never been an issue here before,” he said. “It is also suspected that the drug Fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic, is coming in. ”
The shift, he said, is because nearly two years ago there was a problem with narcotic painkillers being over prescribed by doctors. The Drug Enforcement Agency took many of those drugs and moved them from Schedule Three to Schedule Two, making them harder to get a hold of. A patient must now take a written prescription for narcotics like Hydrocodone, Oxycontin and others to the pharmacy and must pick it up in person. Consequently, the people who were abusing them couldn’t get them any more.
“The DEA succeeded in what they were trying to do, but they caused these people to start looking for other sources for narcotics,” he said.
In this case, heroin is the illicit narcotic of choice. Intelligence information from the state and federal authorities confirm where the drugs are coming from, he added.
“I and most law enforcement officers are convinced there are super-labs somewhere in Mexico, and they are cooking huge quantities of this stuff and bringing it across the border,” he said.
There has not been a meth lab in Barton County in eight or nine year’s, though methamphetamine continues to be a problem. The meth law enforcement is finding here now is refined, also cooked in a professional lab. Quantities of cocaine have also been found. One drug, however, is coming from somewhere else. Marijuana is coming almost exclusively from Colorado now.
When addicts end up in the Barton County jail, they can expect a healthy serving of cold turkey while they detox. Narcotics detoxification is very painful, Bellendir said, but the most they can hope for is orange juice.
“Believe it or not, the sugar helps,” he said.
One member asked how often training for law enforcement changes.
“It changes all the time,” Bellendir said. “For instance, there are officers now who have never seen heroin before.”
Staying abreast of the trends is critical, and Bellendir credits the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center with keeping him and his officers up to speed.
Trafficking hard to track
The topic of human trafficking was also raised. Bellendir said it is not as big an issue in Great Bend as it may be in Garden City or Dodge City.
“I think our human trafficking is more along the lines of indentured servitude, where you are still paying off a guy for getting you across the border for a number of years,” he said. “I do think there is human trafficking and sex trafficking and sex trafficking, but it is such a clandestine operation, and often victims won’t speak up out of fear.”
His department is dedicating its resources to more pressing issues, specifically the meth and heroin epidemics, and drugs coming into the county. He knows that drug use and the drug trade is causing a lot of the other problems. Getting even one addict off the street, for instance, can lower the burglary rate.