A Wichita lawmaker’s tweet that suggested numerous guns were on the House floor during a debate over concealed weapons Thursday has prompted a call for a rebuke from legislative leadership.
The tweet, which came as the Legislature passed a bill to allow public hospitals to continue prohibiting concealed weapons, also drew attention to the number of lawmakers who have guns in the Statehouse.
Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Republican, tweeted Thursday evening: “Good Evening, #ksleg. On the House Floor, having just gaveled in. We are about to do the Gun bill, and I am so scared.”
About an hour later, Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican, replied:
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“Nothing to be scared of, there’s at least 25 guns on the floor of the House right now! #StickersMakeYouSafe.”
The no-guns-allowed stickers currently at the entrances of public hospitals played a prominent role in the debate, with conservatives arguing the stickers do nothing to keep guns out of the facilities. Ultimately, the House passed the bill 91-33, sending it to Gov. Sam Brownback.
Clayton posted a screenshot of Whitmer’s reply, adding, “This is happening to me at work.”
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said he felt the tweet was “disgraceful and very inappropriate.”
“Obviously it’s disgraceful that somebody would put a tweet out like that, somehow imply that armed violence was gonna take place on the floor of the House, I mean that’s what’s implied by that,” Hensley said.
In an interview, Whitmer brushed aside the controversy. He said a number of law enforcement officers carry guns within the House chamber in addition to some lawmakers. He estimated a couple dozen lawmakers in the House probably are carrying concealed weapons at any given time.
A 2013 bill signed by Brownback opened up the Capitol and other public buildings to guns, with concealed weapons allowed into the building in 2014.
The policy has played out mostly without incident. But in January, Rep. Willie Dove, a Bonner Springs Republican, left a loaded firearm in a committee room.
Dove, who regularly carries, said at the time the incident was the first time he remembered something like that happening.
The House chamber is very secure, Whitmer said.
“We have state troopers in the room, we have members of law enforcement in the room and I don’t carry. So my point was there’s nothing to be scared of. That was my point,” Whitmer said.
Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, called on House leadership to act against Whitmer.
“If you had received this from an everyday citizen, the Capitol police would be all over it. Your leadership needs to sanction him,” Kelly said in a tweet.
Whitmer’s tweet was also defended on social media. Brett Hildabrand, a former state lawmaker who is now a lobbyist for the Kansas State Rifle Association, said “sensitivity and faux outrage do not equal ‘threatened.’ ”
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, said Friday morning that he had not seen the tweet exchange. When shown the tweet, he said he didn’t “want to react to something without looking at it and thinking about it.”
Asked in a broader sense about how he handles conflict among different members of the Republican House caucus, Ryckman said “lots of times it’s just bringing people in and having conversations.”
Clayton said that she wants to focus on her work as a legislator as lawmakers try to end the lengthy 2017 session.
“I just want this to go away,” Clayton said. “I just want to work. That’s all I want to do.”
In January, Jonathan Holder, who at the time was a commander in the Civil Air Patrol, posted a Facebook comment saying Clayton should “swing from a tree.” Holder made the comment under a Facebook post Clayton shared about a bill she introduced that would permanently exempt Kansas colleges from having to allow concealed handguns on campus.
Clayton alerted Capitol Police and the Overland Park Police Department. Holder later resigned his post.