Government & Politics

KU Health System leaders ask lawmakers to keep guns out of its buildings

University of Kansas Health System officials asked the Kansas House on Thursday to continue banning guns from its buildings, including the University of Kansas Hospital.
University of Kansas Health System officials asked the Kansas House on Thursday to continue banning guns from its buildings, including the University of Kansas Hospital. File photo

They worry about what will happen if the guns come in.

They worry about how devastated patients or family members might react if they have guns, what could happen if a firearm accidentally goes off.

They worry about the danger that could come in a moment of crisis, if police officers have to decide who is the shooter and who’s trying to be the “good Samaritan.”

Leading members of the University of Kansas Health System asked Kansas lawmakers Thursday to let them continue banning concealed handguns from the Kansas City, Kan., hospital and other buildings where they treat patients.

Those guns will be allowed in the health system’s buildings starting in July unless the law is changed.

The president of the health system, as well as other hospital leaders and the chief of police, all testified to Kansas House lawmakers that guns should be kept out.

They testified in support of a bill that would permanently exempt the health system from having to follow a 2013 law that allows concealed handguns in public buildings.

Rick Johnson, the chief security officer for the KU Health System, said the guns wouldn’t make security better but instead would create new threats.

“We serve several hundred patients each day that are extremely vulnerable and totally rely on staff to protect them from harm,” Johnson said. “The presence of firearms makes these patients less safe.”

Hospital leaders cited concerns about recruiting and keeping staff, safety for employees and patients, and the damage the guns could do if they are legally allowed within the hospital’s walls.

“We have not had any issues for the last four years when we’ve been exempted from this,” said Bob Page, president and CEO of the University of Kansas Health System. “Why would we want to make any changes? We are on a trajectory to become one of the best in the country. Why in the world would we want anybody to put that at risk? This is not about fear as much as it is, we’ve done a great job so far, why do you want to change that?”

Travis Couture-Lovelady, a lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, challenged that move.

“You cannot guarantee there are not guns going into the facility” if the law were to be changed, Couture-Lovelady said.

The University of Kansas Hospital recently changed its name to the University of Kansas Health System.

Hospital officials said the University of Kansas Medical Center, which is separate from the health system, is also covered under the legislation.

The bill is a more narrow version of legislation considered by lawmakers in the last two weeks that would keep guns out of certain public areas.

While the other legislation included college campus buildings, community mental health centers and public hospitals, Thursday’s bill only focused on keeping the guns out of buildings controlled by the KU Hospital authority.

The hospital could continue to keep handguns out under the current law if certain changes are made.

The law requires public buildings to put in place security measures at public entrances, like a metal detector and an armed guard, to keep guns out of the building.

Hospital officials wouldn’t specify how much those measures would cost.

They would only say that the moves would be expensive and not practical for such a large medical facility.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

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