Government & Politics

Kansas law on campus guns prompts big turnout at hearing

The Kansas Capitol in Topeka
The Kansas Capitol in Topeka

A bill that would let colleges keep concealed handguns off campus brought self defense advocates and frustrated students alike to the Capitol on Thursday.

Both sides packed into a small committee room to testify about the possible repeal of a law set to go into effect July 1.

Under the proposed Senate legislation supported by several moderate Republicans and Democrats, certain public places would be permanently exempt from the law that would force them to permit concealed handguns.

State college campuses, like the University of Kansas, would be exempt under the bill, as well as state-owned medical care facilities and community mental health centers.

College students and professors testified that they feared for their safety if the law went into effect.

Megan Jones, a graduate student at KU, said she supported the bill to change the law “because I don’t want to get shot.”

“I don’t want to watch someone else get shot,” she said. “I don’t want to wonder if a guy sitting in my classroom is pulling out his cellphone or a firearm.”

The law was passed in 2013, and colleges were given four years to prepare for the law to take effect.

Lawmakers who support changing the law have cited a change made to gun laws during the 2015 session that would let people carry concealed firearms without a license.

Regan Tokos, an Omaha, Neb., woman who transferred to Kansas State University, told lawmakers that college students aren’t “exactly mature or responsible.”

“If I had known this law was going into effect before I came to Kansas State University, I would have stayed in Nebraska,” she said.

After more than an hour of testimony, a much smaller group of gun rights advocates testified that they wanted to see the law remain unchanged.

Derek Cox, a Marine Corps veteran, said he moved back to Kansas in 2012 and carries a gun almost everywhere he goes.

He took issue with the fact that he’s allowed to legally carry a gun in town, but wouldn’t be able to do the same on his college campus.

“We’re just normal people just like you,” Cox said. “We’re not crazed gun nuts.”

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, a Leavenworth Republican, testified against changing the law. Self defense isn’t a constitutional right, he said, but a human right.

“At this very moment, should a criminal, a terrorist or a madman come in and start shooting, people will wish and pray they had a weapon,” Fitzgerald said. “Or that a person next to them had a weapon. A weapon is like a parachute. You hope you never need it and if you don’t have it when you do, you’ll never need it again.”

Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican, has championed a repeal of the campus carry law.

Citing information from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, she told lawmakers Thursday that guns on campuses are more likely to lead to increases in suicide and violent crime.

“The study shows that it is very unlikely that having a weapon on campus will lead to fewer mass shootings or casualties during a mass shooting,” Bollier said.

Things often became chippy between the crowd in the committee room and Sen. Jacob LaTurner, a Pittsburg Republican who is the committee’s chairman.

LaTurner said lawmakers will likely talk about the bill in the committee next week.

Bollier said Thursday afternoon that she didn’t think the bill would move forward.

“It’s never going anywhere out of that committee,” Bollier said. “Do you know how sad that makes me and how wrong that is based on what you heard? People are going to go nuts.”

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Republican, introduced a House version of the bill last week. A hearing on that version of the bill is set for Wednesday.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw