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Despite Protests, Kansas Gun Control Efforts Stalled

Jim McLean
Kansas News Service
Emma Persinger, an Emporia High School senior, spoke on the steps of the Kansas Capitol last weekend in a call for gun control.

Even in the wake of national and local protests, students and others pushing for tighter gun laws say, state and federal lawmakers from Kansas refuse to tackle even “common sense” firearm rules.

Thousands rallied across the state over the weekend. They called for stronger background checks. They pushed an assault weapons ban. And they pleaded for laws to extract guns from homes where suicide and domestic violence appear imminent.

“We just reject the idea that the Second Amendment means there cannot be any regulation of firearms,” Emma Persinger, an Emporia High School senior, told hundreds gathered Saturday at the Kansas Statehouse. “Silence cannot create change, but enough angry voters can.”

Signs held by students standing at the front of the crowd pointedly criticized lawmakers for their inaction. “Why are we making our children be braver than our politicians?” read one. Others referred to political contributions from the National Rifle Association as “blood money.”

So far this legislative session, Kansas lawmakers have rejected proposals to strengthen background checks and ban bump stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to work almost like machine guns. Legislators also rejected an attempt to prohibit Kansans under 21 from owning or possessing a rifle.

Several speakers called on state lawmakers to pass a “red flag” bill currently buried in committee. It would allow guns to be taken temporarily from people deemed a threat themselves or others.

Others urged the defeat of a measure introduced last week that would pave the way for local districts to allow teachers and staff to carry concealed handguns in schools.

“Reach out to your legislators and … blow this up,” said Samantha Inscore, an elementary education major at Emporia State University and organizer of the rally.

Credit Jim McLean / Kansas News Service
Kansas News Service
Samantha Inscore, an elementary education major at Emporia State University, spoke at a student-led rally in Topeka.

That bill would, among other things, prohibit insurers from refusing liability coverage to districts that allow teachers and staff to carry concealed handguns — unless the insurance company can show it based such a decision on solid “actuarial” evidence.

The bill’s sponsor, Derby Republican Rep. Blake Carpenter, said districts can allow teachers and staff to conceal-carry now. They don’t, he said, because their insurers discourage it.

“Insurance companies have said, ‘We’re either going to jack your rates up or we’re going to cancel your policy,’” Carpenter told the Sunflower State Journal.

A hurry-up hearing on Carpenter’s bill — scheduled for 8 a.m. Tuesday in the House Insurance Committee – shows that Republican leaders are fast-tracking it, said Rep. Dennis “Boog” Highberger.

“This is a clear attempt to ram this through in clear violation of the normal process,” Highberger, a Lawrence Democrat, said on Twitter.

The same people hoping to slow that bill want the red flag bill on the move.

A growing number of states have passed such laws. They allow guns to be temporarily confiscated from people when a judge determines the owner is a risk to themselves or others. Several more are considering them in the wake of the mass shooting at the Parkland, Florida, high school where 17 people were killed. 

But not in Kansas. Here, such proposals have become buried in committee, blocked by legislative leaders.

“It’s so frustrating,” said Republican Sen. Barbara Bollier from Mission Hills. “Why aren’t we making time for something that could save lives?”

Several weeks ago, Bollier planned to force a floor vote on her red flag bill. Senate leaders talked her out of it by promising to schedule a committee hearing.

Credit Jim McLean / Kansas News Service
Kansas News Service
Protesters, like those at the Statehouse on Saturday, have expressed frustration with Kansas politicians over gun issues.

Weeks later, she found out that Sen. Richard Wilborn, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, planned to hear the bill but not vote on it. Bollier then tried unsuccessfully to attach it to another measure being debated on the floor.

That angered Wilborn, who promptly canceled the hearing.

“We had an agreement,” said a visibly angry Wilborn. “That agreement is broken.”

Bollier protested, insisting that she had only agreed not to offer an amendment on a particular day -- when the Senate was working to get past a mid-session deadline.

“We didn’t discuss anything in the future,” Bollier said.

Wilborn said the bill would be a “burden” on law enforcement and the courts.  He pointed to acost estimate from Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer’s budget office that said the bill could cost more than $1 million to enforce because it would require a new database and could trigger a lawsuit against the state. 

“It’s what we call a political fiscal note,” said House Minority Leader Jim Ward, the sponsor of a House red flag bill. “That’s when you gin up a big number to scare people.”

One way or another, Ward said, he intends to force a vote on his bill.

Credit Jim McLean / Kansas News Service
Kansas News Service
Young people have been at the forefront in Kansas, and elsewhere, on the gun issue this year.

“We will have another a debate on gun safety in this building again this year,” he said.

A 2017 studypublished in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that laws that require persons convicted of domestic violence to relinquish their firearms save lives. 

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post. 

Jim McLean is a political correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration based at KCUR with other public media stations across Kansas. You can email him at jim@kcur.org.
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