Kansas lawmakers — at least the majority of incumbents — think college campuses will be safer starting next July. That’s when a law they approved will allow people to carry concealed handguns on Kansas Board of Regents campuses.
But Joey Paz, a student at Kansas State University, said he’ll feel less safe.
“If this law would have been passed three years ago … I would have seriously considered not going to school in Kansas,” he said.
Paz spoke Thursday at a forum at K-State. The forum, which drew about 60 people, was meant to address the university’s proposed policy to implement the law. However, many in the audience wanted to talk about the law itself.
Michael McGlynn, who teaches in K-State’s School of Architecture, said after the forum that students aren’t the only ones worried about safety.
“Faculty have made it clear that they will check themselves at the door, that they will change the nature of their classes in response to this,” he said.
McGlynn said that if faculty and students are afraid to engage in a free and open exchange of ideas, the culture of the university will be jeopardized.
But Joe Hancock, who teaches animal science at K-State, thinks concerns about the new gun law are overblown.
“I mean, you’re talking about suicides and gunfights in classrooms, and (how) I’m not going to be able to discuss anything controversial,” Hancock said. “I think you’re way underestimating the quality and the caliber of our students at Kansas State University. They’re not a bunch of idiots.”
Hancock, who has a concealed carry permit, said he’ll probably carry a gun on campus from time to time once it’s legal. He said supporters of gun rights shouldn’t have to demonstrate that concealed carry will make the campus safer — just that it won’t make it any less safe.
“And if it doesn’t, you can’t prove that it makes things worse, then leave people alone. Let ’em do what they want to do,” he said.
The proposed K-State policy would require guns to be under the direct control of their owners, unless securely holstered and stored in a residence or vehicle. The university will not provide gun storage and faculty will not be allowed to leave guns in their offices. They also won’t be permitted to designate their offices as gun-free zones.
English professor James Machor said Texas allows faculty offices to be considered non-public spaces, where guns could be banned.
“Although the law is phrased differently for Texas — I don’t know what the phrasing is — but the University of Texas has allowed its faculty to do that,” Machor said.
Hancock said that was true, but there are several rules that go along with that exception. Texas requires such restrictions to be announced verbally. A sign isn’t enough.
“And, if a student wants to meet with you that might be a concealed carry participant, and you won’t let him in the office, then you have to make arrangements to meet with him somewhere else on campus,” Hancock said.
Vice President of Student Life Pat Bosco said a survey found that most K-State faculty members generally are opposed to the law, and 60 percent of students are also opposed to it.
Bosco said he won’t know until after fall enrollment next year whether the law may put a damper on enrollment.
“We’ve had emails from parents and students on both sides of the issue,” he said. “There are some who are saying that they would not go to a school in the state of Kansas because of this new law. We’ve had others say they’ll feel safer because of this law.”
Bosco said the Kansas Board of Regents has made it clear that universities must work on implementation of the law, and that’s what K-State is doing.
But between now and implementation is an election that could change the political composition of the Kansas Legislature.
Stephen Kucera, who is in his fourth year on the K-State Student Senate, said after the forum that people concerned about the law should let their elected leaders know their stance on the issue.
“Ultimately the only way that we can achieve the best policy is if people register to vote, and go to the polls in November in state and local elections,” Kucera said.
Bryan Thompson is a reporter for KHI News Service, which is a partner in a statewide collaboration covering elections in Kansas.