The debate over allowing concealed guns on college campuses is starting to heat up in the Kansas Statehouse.
A law passed in 2013 will require public universities to allow concealed guns on campus starting this summer. A group of Kansas lawmakers now is pushing a bill that would exempt state universities and colleges from the requirement.
Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Republican, introduced the legislation in the House. She says voters in her Johnson County district don’t want guns on college campuses.
“They worry about the combination of alcohol and guns. They worry about the higher incidence of suicide. They worry about college students possibly making mistakes with guns,” Clayton says. “It does tend to be a more exploratory and reckless time period in early adulthood.”
The 2013 law allows guns in most public buildings, unless the buildings have adequate security such as guards and metal detectors.
Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican, places long odds on Clayton’s bill passing.
“It’s dead on arrival,” he says. “The original bill passed with veto-proof majorities in both chambers. I’ve talked to my folks, and it’s a Second Amendment issue. It’s a right to bear arms issue.”
Whitmer says constitutional rights don’t end when a person steps onto a college campus, and he doesn’t agree with concerns about safety.
“The folks who legally carry, they’re not the ones you need to be afraid of. Heck, they’re the ones who are going to come to your defense in the case of a campus shooter,” he says.
Gov. Sam Brownback also says he’s not in favor of changing the state’s concealed carry law.
“I believe it’s a right that the individual has and the Constitution upholds that,” Brownback says.
But at this point, Brownback is not closing the door to some kind of compromise that could delay allowing guns on campus or otherwise amend the bill.
“We’ll look at whatever people bring forward in the process. You know I like to let the process play out, but my view of the Second Amendment hasn’t changed,” he says.
There’s an added wrinkle in the debate. When lawmakers originally passed the law that will allow guns on campus, the state had a requirement that people carrying a concealed gun go through training and get a permit. Since then, Kansas lawmaker have put in place so-called constitutional carry, which means almost anyone 21 and older can carry a concealed gun without training or a license.
Clayton says that expansion of concealed carry means the issue of guns on campus needs another look.
“When this was first put into effect, the legislators voted for it with that original concealed carry law in mind, thinking, ‘Well, what kind of harm could this do? Only licensed individuals can carry a concealed weapon anyway,’” she says. “Now, with the implementation of constitutional carry, this needs to have another hearing. The debate needs to be opened on this again.”
The Kansas Board of Regents and universities have taken steps to prepare for concealed carry and comply with the law.
Board of Regents President and CEO Blake Flanders notes that surveys of university employees and students have shown opposition to the policy, but he says it’s too early to know if the regents will advocate for amending the law.
“The board hasn’t decided that, as of yet. The board’s decision was to implement the current law. We need to meet as a board and determine which path is best forward,” Flanders says.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service.