In 18 months, almost anyone will be able to carry a concealed gun on a Kansas public university campus but the Board of Regents is already working on new safety procedures.
Later this month, the Regents Governance Committee will meet in Wichita to discuss a draft policy on weapons possession that was just released. Regents spokesperson Breeze Richardson says the Board hopes to vote on the new policy at its December meeting.
The Legislature in 2014 passed a bill that would allow anyone with a conceal and carry permit to have a gun in any public building. The only exception would be buildings that were secured with metal detectors and guards. However, it allowed universities and libraries to delay that until July 1, 2017 while they developed new policies and decide which, if any, buildings they would secure.
“The Board of Regents did not begin this conversation," says Richardson who seemed eager to distance educators from the decision. "Rather the state Legislature enacted this law and merely provided an opportunity for the universities to be exempt from it for a period of time that is now facing expiration.”
Securing any building could be a massive and expensive undertaking. "Beginning July 1, 2017, each state university shall determine whether and to what extent concealed carry will be prohibited in any campus buildings or areas of buildings by provision of adequate security measures, permanent or temporary, at each public entrance to the building or area," according to the draft policy.
Richardson says there are more than 800 buildings on the six Regent university campuses. “When we’re talking about buildings, we’re talking about academic buildings and things like Allen Fieldhouse and the stadiums.”
Right now many believe that weapons will be banned in Allen Fieldhouse at the University of Kansas and Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium at Kansas State University. That would mean metal detectors or wands at all entrances to those facilities.
Lawmakers who voted for the bill say it will enhance security on the campuses. State Sen. Forrest Knox, a Republican from Altoona, said in 2013 that putting up signs prohibiting weapons won't stop anyone. "When a gun is in a school and harm is meant, there is only one thing that is going to stop that, and that is another gun," according to Knox.
Perhaps complicating the issue, last session the Legislature passed a bill that made it legal to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.
While there was considerable opposition to allowing anyone to carry a gun on university campuses there seems to be now a resolve that there's no way to stop it. “How can we continue to make the environment that we live and work and try to learn in as safe and unthreatening as possible?” says KU Professor Mike Williams who is University Senate President.
He says the committee that's been studying a new weapons policy is less worried about general safety and more concerned about how it affects the academic atmosphere.
“We hope that individuals, both faculty and students, understand that not everyone will agree but not feel like they can’t speak their mind because of their worry that someone might react with armed violence instead of thoughtful debate,” says Williams.
He says the new weapons policy will be the main discussion item when the University Senate meets Thursday afternoon. Educating students and staff before the change in 2017 will be key and some will simply have to change their attitudes. “Just because someone is carrying a weapon legally does not mean that they have to be a threat.”
The draft policy also addresses the storage of guns when not being carried. "Each state university shall provide a secure storage location, such as its public safety office, for the safe storage of the handgun of any individual who lawfully possesses that handgun on campus." The policy says any student in a dorm that chooses not to store the gun with the university must have a storage device that "must meet minimum industry standards and be pre-approved by the university."
Williams says there's also discussions about how to secure sensitive areas of some buildings. “Certainly laboratories and other areas that have dangerous environments, if you will, that don’t play well with bullets probably will be to be secured in some way or the other that can be affordable. So key cards or that sort of thing might be a possibility.”