Gov. Sam Brownback said Thursday that he would let a bill allowing public hospitals to continue banning concealed firearms become law without his signature.
The legislation had bipartisan support when it passed the Kansas Legislature earlier this month over the objections of the National Rifle Association.
Under the bill, the state’s psychiatric hospitals and the University of Kansas Health System will be allowed to continue banning concealed handguns in their facilities. Other public hospitals throughout the state are also included in the bill.
In a statement announcing his decision, Brownback stressed that “the right to bear arms is essential towards preserving our freedoms and maintaining self-government.”
The Republican governor also bemoaned that a proposal he found to be a “reasonable compromise” was rejected by health care representatives.
“Nevertheless, this bill does appropriately address safety concerns at state mental health hospitals,” Brownback said in his statement. “As a result, I will permit House Bill 2278 to become law without my signature.”
Had lawmakers not granted the hospitals an exemption to the 2013 state law allowing people to carry handguns in public places, the medical sites that included the state’s psychiatric hospitals would have been required to put in place security measures like metal detectors and armed guards to keep banning handguns.
Their exemption from the state’s concealed-carry law was set to end July 1.
Some conservative lawmakers have criticized the bill as taking guns away from law-abiding citizens.
“I was hoping that when the bill hit his desk two Mondays ago that he would veto it,” said Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Derby Republican. “...Ultimately, he held onto it for too long and decided not to take a stance.”
Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat, who pushed for the bill, predicted earlier this month that there may have been “somewhat of a meltdown” if Brownback chose to veto the legislation.
On Thursday, Wolfe Moore said she was grateful for the governor making the decision he did and called it “an amazing outcome for such a hard-fought battle.”
KU Health System officials lobbied lawmakers to grant the hospital an exemption to the state’s concealed-carry law throughout this year’s legislative session.
The NRA opposed bills that allowed the hospitals to continue banning the handguns without added security.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, tried during the Senate debate on the legislation to amend the bill with what she said was an NRA compromise.
She said that failed effort would have allowed guns in parking lots and reception areas of certain hospitals but restricted the guns from patient areas.
It became clear earlier this year that it would cost Kansas millions if the state’s hospitals had to follow the current gun law without a continued exemption and add security measures. Estimates provided to lawmakers ranged from roughly $12 million to around $24 million.
State or municipal-owned medical care facilities and adult care homes, community mental health centers and indigent health care clinics will now be exempted from the concealed-carry law, according to the bill that became law Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said he was glad Brownback let the bill become law.
“The optics of guns in mental health hospitals obviously is, you know, not defendable,” Denning said.
Though the public hospitals will be able to continue banning the handguns, public colleges and universities were not granted the same continued exemption despite efforts from some lawmakers.
Talking about the new law for guns in hospitals, Carpenter said “we may have lost a battle. But we also won another battle, or potentially the war, I would say, as far as other concealed carry pieces of legislation that are currently going into law or that we have currently.”