OLATHE, Kan. — On Thursday, the Johnson County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution they hope will address reckless shooting across property lines.
The resolution now makes it a code violation for a person to shoot a gun and have the bullet enter a neighboring property without the property owners’ permission.
Last week Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden made a presentation to the commission in support of the resolution.
“What it amounts to is if you recklessly shoot a bullet and it leaves your property, you are responsible for that. We want to hold people accountable if we need to,” Hayden said.
Before the commission cast the final vote, Matt and Katie Keys explained what happened to their home on May 31, 2020. That was the day four stray bullets hit their home in rural Johnson County. The bullets that struck the Keys’ home traveled approximately 580 yards from an individual aiming to shoot a brush pile.
“Four college students fired an AK-47 and an AR-15 in the direction of my home from an adjacent field approximately 580 yards away from where I live for four hours,” Katie Keys said.
“One bullet completely blew through a 6-inch exterior stud wall into our home office, crossed the room at a diagonal and landed inches away from where my kindergartener homeschooled every day during COVID remote learning.”
Some of those stray bullets remain lodged in the walls of the Keys’ main bedroom and front porch.
“My family’s safety was jeopardized that day,” Matt Keys said. “The once background noise of gunfire in the country — now at night, I fear whether they are shooting safely and if they will hit one of my kids.”
The Keys said no one was hurt that day, but because there were no laws in place to address the reckless shooting, no one was charged with a crime or held financially responsible for the damage done to their home.
“All four shooters walked away without so much as a ticket. The gun owner had full access to his firearms immediately. The landowner held zero responsibility,” Katie Keys said.
Hayden said representatives for the National Rifle Association (NRA) are in support of the new county code for gun safety.
“You are responsible for every bullet that comes out of that gun. You’re responsible for where it begins and where it ends,” Hayden said.
From August 2, 2019 to June 13, 2021, the sheriff’s department received 22 complaints at 19 different addresses of stray bullets hitting people’s homes, cars and farming equipment.
The resolution makes violating the county code a civil offense. That violation incurs a minimum fine of $500 and a maximum fine of $1,000.
The Keys said passing the resolution is a good first step, but more can be done going forward.
“I feel encouraged. I feel thankful. I feel optimistic for change in the future to rectify things that have happened in the past,” Katie Keys said.
“This is not a one-time deal; this is not a single issue. I wish it was. This continues to be a problem for unincorporated parts of the county and I’m hopeful that today we can start moving the needle in the right direction.”
The Keys have partnered with Rep. Jo Ella Hoye in support of House Bill 2454, proposed legislation that would create new penalties for recklessly discharging a firearm.
If the bill is approved by Kansas lawmakers, when a bullet leaves a property and enters an adjacent property without the owner’s permission the shooter would be charged with a criminal penalty. Hoye said under the proposed bill, penalties would be more severe if a person is hurt or killed as a result of the stray bullet crossing property lines.
“If you are a gun owner you should be responsible. If you shoot and kill somebody, whether you mean to or not, that should be a crime and you should have some prohibitions on firearms after that,” Hoye said.
Hoye said the bill also includes prevention measures to protect school children. Under the proposed bill every case in which a gun is shot within two miles of a school, the individual would be charged with criminal discharge of a firearm within a city.
The Keys home is located less than a mile away from an elementary school.
“One a different day from a different field, a different shooter could have also missed a backstop or a brush pile and hit someone on the playground at recess or better yet, inside the school and walk away completely unscathed,” Katie Keys said.