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At The Kansas Governor's Mansion, Confusion Lingers Over Concealed Carry

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3
Why did this no-gun sign disappear from the Kansas governor's mansion in Topeka?

After four years of planning for concealed carry in Kansas government buildings, you might expect that officials would have the wrinkles ironed out -- that they would have considered all the possibilities. 

But there is still confusion, and it starts at Cedar Crest, the stately governor’s mansion on the west side of Topeka.

Kansas governors have lived there since 1962. It’s open for tours on Mondays from 1-3:30 p.m. and hosts the occasional public function.

And, it turns out, it’s a bit of a magic mansion.

“It’s a public property when it’s open to the public and it’s a private residence for the governor and his family,” says Lt. Adam Winters, spokesman for the Kansas Highway Patrol, the agency that is responsible for security at Cedar Crest.

Winters says Cedar Crest is a private residence when the governor or his family is at home, and if they wanted to ban guns they could. But it turns into a public building like the statehouse, department of motor vehicles or a college lecture hall when they are gone, he says, and firearms must be allowed. 

How did the Highway Patrol reach that conclusion?

“I went and I did all the research that I could to find the answers for you. I used several avenues to get that information,” says Winters.

Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
After KCUR questioned the Capital Police about whether the no-gun signs at the governor's mansion would stay up after July 1, the Highway Patrol had them taken down.

But Winters did not provide further explanation. Is there a statute? A regulation? Why does the building’s status change depending on whether Gov. Brownback or his family is there?

This much is known: In June, before KCUR began asking questions, signs banning guns were posted at Cedar Crest and the park surrounding it.

When first asked whether those signs would stay up after July 1 -- when the state's concealed carry law expanded to all government buildings -- the Capitol Police, the part of the Highway Patrol that protects Cedar Crest, said “absolutely yes” and cited a 2011 law.

That legislation banned guns in Cedar Crest, the park and other government buildings.

But then in 2013, the Legislature passed the Personal and Family Protection Act, essentially opening up the carrying of concealed guns almost everywhere. But the ban on guns at Cedar Crest wasn’t specifically repealed, which explains why the Capitol Police initially said the ban on guns in the governor’s mansion would continue.  

But the state soon changed its tune. A few days after KCUR's phone call with the Capitol Police, the no-gun signs were gone and the Highway Patrol offered its explanation of how Cedar Crest is different from all other state-owned buildings.

Or is it?

“The way the Kansas law is written, there are no buildings that are exempt from the Family and Personal Protection Act,” says Breeze Richardson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Board of Regents.

Where do Kansas colleges fit into the story?

Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The chancellor's residence at the University of Kansas, like all of the Regents' CEOs, is a state- owned building and must allow concealed carry, according to the Board of Regents.

It turns out that the CEOs of the Regents' six universities live in state-owned mansions, just like Cedar Crest.

“A CEO’s private residence is a state-owned building in the same way that a major academic building would be or an athletic facility,” Richardson says.

The Personal and Family Protection Act actually prohibits college professors or a potential dormitory roommate from even asking if someone is carrying a concealed pistol. That also goes for university CEOs, who often use their mansions for fundraising.

“That’s correct. My understanding is that you cannot ask or require a list of any kind of who is carrying concealed,” Richardson says.

What does a university president think about being forced to potentially allow people who might have a gun into their home?

KCUR asked Richard Myers, who has been Kansas State University president for about 18 months.

“Well, you know, I probably already have because the definition of concealed is you don’t see it,” says Myers.

He also stresses that many K-State faculty and staff support allowing concealed carry on campus.

Myers is a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a combat fighter pilot with a Distinguished Flying Cross, so he knows something about weapons.

And just like his colleagues, Myers is required to live in the campus house. He says he is not worried about his safety. But he is worried the concealed carry law will drive away good people from the university.

Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The Capitol Police initially said guns would continue to be banned at the governor's mansion after July 1. The Capitol Police guard Cedar Crest, the Statehouse and other state buildings.

“Unfortunately, very unfortunately, we’ll lose some really capable faculty members over this. And perhaps staff as well,” Myers says. 

Myers’ house, the other campus CEO mansions and Cedar Crest are all houses for transients -- the occupants regularly change.

So while Gov. Brownback’s spokeswoman says Brownback has no qualms about letting people who are packing pistols into Cedar Crest, Brownback is leaving soon for a job in the Trump administration. Plus there’s an election next year.

At this point, then, it’s fair to say that, despite all the planning for concealed carry, there is still confusion.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR and the Kansas News Service and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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