Opponents of allowing guns on university campuses are not giving up their fight despite a setback this week in a Kansas Senate committee.
State law says Kansas colleges and universities must allow concealed weapons on campus starting in July. Bills in the House and Senate would exempt higher education institutions from the law, allowing them to continue banning guns on campus.
A Senate committee voted Tuesday not to advance the bill to the full chamber. Just a day later, the House Federal and State Affairs Committee had a public hearing on a similar measure.
Rabbi Moti Rieber, of the group Kansas Interfaith Action, believes approval by the Kansas House could boost the bill’s chances in the Senate.
“We think that if the bill gets to the House floor, it’ll pass,” Rieber said Wednesday. “It would give the bill momentum to come out of the House with a strong majority, which I think we would get.”
University of Kansas professor Ron Barrett told the House committee that guns should not be allowed on campuses. He says many university labs contain chemicals that could cause an explosion — or worse — if they’re struck by an errant bullet.
“Some universities even store more dangerous materials, like tens of thousands of gallons of poisonous, carcinogenic flammables right in the middle of campus,” Barrett said.
But for Emporia State University student Megan Hilbish and others who support concealed carry, the issue comes down to constitutional rights, which they say don’t end on a college campus.
“We want to be able to conceal carry on college campuses to be able to defend ourselves and feel more safe and secure, especially with the inadequate security measures that colleges have now,” Hilbish said.
The overflow hearing Wednesday appeared to be dominated by supporters of changing the law, but Kathleen Wade, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, said that didn’t tell the whole story. She said the group has supporters who aren’t able to attend events like the hearing.
“We will fight this until the last minute, until the last vote is counted,” Wade said.
Travis Couture-Lovelady, a former Republican Kansas legislator who now works for the National Rifle Association, said the group has been mobilizing supporters to contact lawmakers with emails and phone calls.
“We’re OK with discussion. We feel confident in our arguments and confident in the people of Kansas, that this is the direction they want to go,” Couture-Lovelady said.
Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican and chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, said he wants to give members of the committee time to consider all the comments before taking any action on the bill.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service.