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Mission Hills Lawmaker Sees Gun Background Checks As Health Issue

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A former physician now in the Kansas Legislature says she will promote a bill expanding background checks for gun sales because she believes gunshot wounds are a public health issue.

Rep. Barbara Bollier, a moderate Republican from Mission Hills, this week attended the first conference of a newly formed group of state lawmakers committed to curbing gun violence. Bollier joined almost 200 representatives from both parties and all 50 states at the Washington, D.C., meeting of American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention, calling it "a tremendous opportunity for the people's voice to be heard throughout the country."

"This upcoming session I will support state legislation for background checks," Bollier said in a statement distributed during the conference. "It is imperative that this public health issue be addressed in Kansas."

Bollier was a practicing anesthesiologist in the Kansas City area for more than a decade, but said that she first recognized the public health implications of gunshot wounds during her residency at Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston.

She said Ben Taub had one of the busiest emergency rooms in the country at that time and treatment of gunshot wounds was "routine."

Rep. Ken Corbet, a conservative Republican from Topeka who is one of the House's most vocal supporters of firearm rights, said he did not see the connection to public health.

“I don’t believe it’s a public health issue," Corbet said. "I think if the Founding Fathers wanted that to be a public health issue, it would have said that in the Second Amendment. They did not bring that up.”

A study published in 1997 found that the cost of medical expenses, public services and work-loss hours due to gunshot wounds was about $40 billion annually in the United States, or about $154,000 per gunshot survivor.

Federal law currently requires background checks for people purchasing from licensed gun dealers to determine whether buyers have a felony conviction that could disqualify them from gun ownership. The Federal Bureau of Investigation says it hasconducted more than 100 million such checks in the last decade, resulting in more than 700,000 denials.

Those who are not licensed dealers are exempt, whether they sell at gun shows or person-to-person.

According to Governing magazine, 14 states require background checks at gun shows for at least some firearm purchases. Four of those states only require checks for handgun purchases. Five of the 14 states have provisions for universal background checks that apply to almost all gun sales, including person-to-person sales and online sales.

Kansas has no background check requirement beyond what is required by federal law.

Bollier said Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat, is working on draft language of background checks legislation for the upcoming session in Kansas. The scope of the bill has yet to be determined.

"From my perspective, I would like to see universal (background checks)," Bollier said. "But we may have to start with gun shows."

Polls have shown about 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks, but gun lobbying groups, including the National Rifle Association, strenuously oppose them and have worked to squelch federal action.

Corbet said the measure faces an even tougher road in the Kansas Legislature, where the trend in recent years has been to expand gun ownership and carrying rights, including a bill stating that the federal government has no jurisdiction to regulate guns made and sold strictly within Kansas.

“The last couple of gun bills, they passed overwhelmingly for pro-gun rights," he said. "But she (Bollier) apparently has some constituents that feel that's an issue and that’s her job to bring that forward.”

Corbet, who owns a hunting lodge in southern Shawnee County, said his constituents feel differently about background checks.

“I know that most of the people in my district, the 54th District, including myself, would probably be opposed to that,” he said.


Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service based in Topeka.
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