The Kansas statehouse is a very Second Amendment kind of place, and one provocative bill under consideration this session proposes the unusual step of protecting the firearms industry from discrimination.
In short, it would be illegal to refuse to do business with someone just because that person deals in guns or ammunition.
The proposal is titled the Firearms Industry Nondiscrimination Act, a trade association initiative by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. It’s one of several bills with gun-rights themes that lawmakers are considering in the 2016 session, including measures concerning air guns at schools and a proposed constitutional right to hunt, plus a bill up for a hearing this week to reduce the minimum age for concealed-carry gun licenses from 21 to 18.
In legislative terms, the FIND Act would define as “an unlawful discriminatory practice” any refusal to do business with a person or trade association “solely because a person is engaged in the lawful commerce of firearms or ammunition products.”
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The association’s Trevor Santos told a Kansas Senate committee that members have faced discrimination from Internet search engines, credit card payment processors and insurance companies.
The measure was a response to Operation Choke Point, Santos said, a federal government effort that aimed to restrict access to banking services by possibly unscrupulous or fraudulent businesses, a list that had included firearms and ammunition dealers.
The bill drew support from the National Rifle Association, but it’s also attracting notice from others who want protection from discrimination.
Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, said he was an avid sports shooter but was skeptical of protecting a particular industry from discrimination.
Holland said he was in the IT industry and was starting a winery business. Maybe “some of my industries” should be in the bill, too, he said.
“We’re here to do the business of the people and not special interests,” Holland said.
Tom Witt, executive director of the LGBT rights group Equality Kansas, said the state’s anti-discrimination statute protects individuals on the basis of such things as race, religion, color, sex, disability and national origin.
Creating a protected class for those involved in the firearms industry would be unprecedented, said Witt, who noted he was a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.
Witt said he knew of another group of people who needed protection from discrimination — 150,000 LGBT Kansans. If lawmakers would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the bill, he said, “we would be happy to support it.”
Elise Higgins, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, told lawmakers the organization has been the target of discrimination and also deserved protection.
Just as the firearms industry shouldn’t face discrimination because of the nature of its business, neither should a provider of women’s health services and safe, legal abortions, she said.
But Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, a Grinnell Republican who is chairman of the Federal and State Affairs Committee, made it clear he wasn’t interested in amendments. Neither was Sen. Jacob LaTurner, the Pittsburg Republican who introduced the bill.
“This is a pro-Second Amendment bill, and I think it should stay that way,” LaTurner said.
Air guns and schools
Another bill would keep schools open to air gun sports.
Worried that schools and guns don’t mix, a school district near Wichita decided a local BB gun club shouldn’t practice or hold events at a grade school.
But, said Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Derby Republican, given the club’s long safety record at Derby School District’s Oaklawn Elementary, the district was “maybe being a little too politically correct.”
“They’ve gone incident-free for the last 30 years,” he said.
Carpenter introduced a bill that would prevent school districts from keeping an organization’s activities off school property “solely because such activities include the possession and use of air guns by the participants.” A House committee held a hearing last week.
The bill allows districts to prohibit students from bringing air guns to school property if the students aren’t participating in an organization’s practices and events.
“I felt like this was taking away from the kids being able to learn safety and to advance themselves in the sport,” Carpenter said. “It’s a shame it’s not being treated as every other sport.”
The House Federal and State Affairs Committee Wednesday approved the bill, which now goes to the House for consideration.
A Kansas right to be sportsmen and sportswomen
Not strictly a gun measure, a proposed constitutional amendment would guarantee that “the people have the right to hunt, fish and trap.”
The idea behind the amendment is to head off any effort by any group to limit hunting and fishing in the state, said Rep. Adam Lusker, a Frontenac Democrat. The amendment wouldn’t alter the state’s authority over wildlife conservation and management, he said.
“The fact is we don’t want people who aren’t Kansans coming to Kansas and trying to force things upon us,” Lusker said.
“We’ll put it in our constitution,” he said, “and it might not be relevant tomorrow or in five years, but in 50 or 100 years we can say we were able to give citizens this protection at a time when there was an appetite to do it.”
Rep. Ken Corbet, a Topeka Republican, said the amendment would confirm that hunting and fishing are cherished resources in the state.
“It protects a lifestyle that’s a tradition in Kansas,” said Corbet, who owns Ravenwood Lodge near Topeka. The state has millions of acres of hunting and recreational ground, he said, “and you’d hate to think that would ever be jeopardized.”
The proposal would require approval from two-thirds of the House and Senate before it could be placed on the 2016 general election ballot. It was approved Wednesday by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee.