Government & Politics

Push for changes to Kansas gun law sputters in Senate

Efforts to exempt the University of Kansas Health System and other public hospitals from a state law allowing concealed weapons in their facilities took a step backward Tuesday.

The Kansas Senate debated a bill that included the expanded exemption, but legislators eventually agreed to send the legislation back to a lower Senate panel, slowing the push by some lawmakers to change the state’s gun laws.

“That’s a victory for Second Amendment people,” said Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican.

The debate was the first major floor discussion this session on a portion of a Kansas gun law that takes effect in less than two months.

Unless changes are made, concealed handguns will be allowed in state psychiatric hospitals like Larned State Hospital and Osawatomie State Hospital starting in July.

Guns also will be allowed at Kansas colleges and universities.

“We have a great deal of people that define the Second Amendment as having the ability to take guns anywhere, even in our mental health hospitals,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican.

Colleges and public hospitals would be required to allow concealed handguns unless adequate security measures were installed. That would include metal detectors and armed guards.

Estimates for how much it would cost to add the security measures in state hospitals have ranged from roughly $12 million to around $25 million for the cash-strapped state.

That does not include the money it would take to include the added security for the KU Health System.

The bill allowing the concealed handguns was passed in 2013. Certain public places, like college campuses and state hospitals, were given four years to prepare for the change.

Leaders of the KU Health System repeatedly lobbied lawmakers this session to grant them the exemption from the law. They argued that the law, left unchanged, could hurt the safety of patients and staff within the KU Health System. They also told lawmakers they were concerned the concealed-carry law could make it harder to recruit and retain staff.

“For me, it’s about the rule of law,” Pyle said. “It’s also about God-given rights and, you know, my God-given rights for self defense don’t get dropped when I enter a campus or enter a hospital.”

The bill sent back to committee was amended by a narrow margin early in the debate. It would only allow people with a concealed-carry permit to carry guns in public hospitals, said Sen. Ed Berger, the Hutchinson Republican who proposed the change.

It also would ban patients at four state medical locations from carrying a concealed handgun.

A change to state law in 2015 allows people over the age of 21 to carry concealed firearms without a permit.

Lawmakers can still make changes to the bill before sending it back to the Senate floor.

Another effort Tuesday, to amend the bill to roll back the part of the state’s concealed carry law that would affect college campuses, ended when the bill was sent back to the Senate’s budget committee at the end of the debate.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said she’d love to have another debate on campus carry but wasn’t sure of the chances of that change passing.

“I am less optimistic that we can get that done,” Kelly said. “...The chamber is clearly split on the issue of guns.”

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw