Government & Politics

Kansas universities, students express preparedness for guns on campus starting Saturday

Starting Saturday, Kansas colleges will allow guns on campus. And students, though some are lukewarm about the idea, are ready.

“A couple of my friends decided that they were going to go somewhere else, because it kind of freaked them out,” said Elena Mendoza, 18, who will start school at Johnson County Community College in the fall. “Most of us were like, if someone has access to a weapon, they can use it either way.

“If they’re going to bring it to school, they’re going to bring it to school, whether someone’s going to let them or not.”

Students 21 and older can carry a concealed handgun on Kansas university campuses starting Saturday. The law was originally passed in 2013, but universities had been exempt for four years to prepare.

Colleges have spent that time hosting open forums to gather feedback and spreading the word to students about when and how they can carry a weapon. Some, including Johnson County Community College, the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, have set up special websites to explain what’s changing.

“Generally speaking, people do feel very safe and always have here on campus,” said Chris Gray, a Johnson County Community College spokesman.

Students are uncertain, but the college has tried to ease their concerns.

“There is that fear of the unknown. What is going to happen?” Gray said.

What the law says

Students can carry a concealed gun in campus buildings except those with “adequate security measures” such as metal detectors and armed security guards.

At KU, that will include athletic events that more than 5,000 people attend, according to the university’s concealed carry website.

Most other universities do not have the security measures in place permanently, but could set them up temporarily for special events with large crowds.

Students can have guns in their dorms. Professors cannot bar students from bringing them to class or labs.

Not everyone can have a gun. Federal regulations ban international students — those with nonimmigrant visas — from concealed carry. And you can’t carry a gun if you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Guns are prohibited in University of Kansas Health System facilities.

At KU, 59 percent of students are under 21. Another 9 percent are international students. Only 8 percent of students who live in residence halls are older than 21, according to the university’s website.

Campuses react

Students have been inundated with news coverage and communication from their schools about campus carry.

Johnson County Community College student Nick Serum, 20, said the law might bolster safety.

“Does it make me feel safer? I’d say yes,” Serum said.

Lots of Kansas students grew up around firearms and are comfortable around them, said Cale Ostby, 27, a Wichita State University student.

Some, including Ostby, already carry a concealed gun off campus.

“It’s insane that I can carry everywhere else except school,” he said.

Ostby, president of Wichita State Students for Concealed Carry, said most people wouldn’t go buy a gun just to bring it to campus.

Dominic Madrid, 19, will be a junior at KU next year.

“I’m OK with it as long as the person has a conceal and carry permit — if they know how to use it,” he said.

But Kansas doesn’t require a permit, which Madrid didn’t know.

“That kind of concerns me a little bit,” Madrid said. “It’ll definitely make me a lot more paranoid, especially on weekends when people start drinking.”

Kansas nixed requiring a permit in 2015, two years after the Legislature gave the green light to campus carry.

Madrid is a Texas native, a state that also allows campus carry, though Texas students need a license to carry on campus. Eight other states allow guns on campus, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures: Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin.

Tennessee allows faculty members with a license to carry a concealed gun, but not students. Twenty-three states leave the decision up to each campus.

Missouri does not allow campus carry.

Kansas faculty have been loath to support the new law.

A 2015 survey by the Kansas Board of Regents Council of Faculty Senate Presidents found that 70 percent of faculty and staff wanted to change the law to ban guns on campus. Seven campuses were surveyed: Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, KU, KU Medical Center, K-State, Pittsburg State University and Wichita State.

Ninety percent said a permit should be required to carry a gun on campus. About 80 percent said they would feel unsafe if students carried a gun.

Getting ready

K-State created online training for students, faculty and community members about campus carry.

It answers frequently-asked questions — “What do I do if I feel my grade is affected because I carry a concealed handgun?” — lists campus resources and advises students how to handle a situation with a gun — “What to do when an active shooter/attacker situation is underway.”

Several universities have promoted ALICE training classes, an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The training teaches how to handle an active shooter situation.

At K-State residence halls, resident assistants will complete ALICE training and the online module to prepare, said Nick Lander, the interim associate director of residence life.

But if an RA sees a gun, they’ll be required to call the police, Lander said. Only concealed weapons are allowed, so even an accidental reveal would be handled by police.

“We’re never going to expect (RAs) to insert themselves into harm’s way,” Lander said.

Johnson County Community College created an informational video that broadcasts on TVs across campus.

“Safety and security is primary for us. This is not reactionary,” Gray said. “We’ve been preparing for multiple years.”

Range 54, a shooting range in Wichita, plans to offer a 10 percent discount for Wichita State students on concealed carry training sessions.

Ken Grommet, lead instructor and co-owner of Range 54, said students should be trained on how to use a gun, even if a permit isn’t required. He hopes discounted training encourages responsible gun ownership.

“I don’t care where you train, just train,” Grommet said. “Get some training from a reputable trainer, so if something happens, it’s going to be second nature.”