Mothers, college professors, pastors, teachers and students packed a Capitol hearing room Thursday morning to make this plea to lawmakers: Roll back a law that in July will make it legal for almost anyone to carry a concealed gun on Kansas college campuses and in other public buildings.
So big was the roll-back contingent that many there to testify had to be hailed to the room from down the hallway.
But nobody who testified received a bigger reaction than Kansas State University student Regan Tokos from Omaha, who told legislators: “If I knew this law was going to take effect, I would have stayed in Nebraska.”
Jo Ella Hoye, a mother from Lenexa, testified wearing a Moms Demand Action T-shirt.
“It disappoints me to think my son won’t be able to attend my graduate alma mater in the future because the risk of having guns on campus is too grave,” she said.
She’s not worried so much about crime but has concerns about some decisions that young people make.
“I was a college student 10 years ago,” she said. “I understand what it’s like to wake up in the morning and not have a good memory of what happened the night before. And the thought of guns in that environment scares me.”
The Legislature passed the campus concealed carry bill four years ago but gave colleges and universities four years to prepare. The law allows the banning of guns but only if the school provides metal detectors and security guards, which is a much-too-expensive proposition because of the number of buildings and doorways on college campuses.
Some law enforcement officials opposed to the law, including Chief Greg Schneider of Kansas City Kansas Community College.
“Somebody doesn’t pass a test and they lose their scholarship, they get kicked off the athletic team or they’re going to get kicked out of the nursing program or whatever program they’re in,” he said. “Those pressures are great. If they can’t handle it right and a weapon is readily available, that poses a danger not only to themselves but to the college community as well.”
To prepare for the new law, the University of Kansas Medical Center has hired three police officers, bringing its strength up to 45 total.
A spokesperson said KU Med will hire more officers in the future, but just how many depends on whether the law as currently written takes effect later this year.
While more than two dozen people signed up to testify Thursday on behalf of the roll back, five people spoke in favor of concealed carry. Three of them were former Kansas lawmakers, including Forrest Knox from Altoona who lost his Senate seat in the August primary.
Knox was one of the driving forces behind the law and returned to the Capitol to defend it.
“You don’t solve crime by taking guns away from law-abiding citizens,” he told his former colleagues.
Also there to defend the law was Travis Couture-Lovelady, a former state representative from Palco who resigned his seat in 2015 to lobby for the National Rifle Association. He said if universities and colleges don’t want guns in campus buildings, they should install metal detectors and hire guards.
“If you’re not going to do that, you need to allow everyone an equal playing field. You need to allow law-abiding citizens the opportunity to defend themselves,” he said.
The push to roll back the law is a test of just how much strength the new moderate Republicans and Democrats have in the Legislature.
The state Senate and House Federal and State Affairs Committees are heavy with conservatives, and many believe getting the bill out of committee will be difficult. So the bill may have to be maneuvered on the floors, where moderates and Democrats think they have enough votes to win.
That means this is also a test of how adroit the roll-back proponents are at the legislative process.
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. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KCUR.org.