Editorials

Editorial: Prospect of guns in state mental hospitals means it’s time for lawmakers to act

University of Kansas Hospital president and CEO Bob Page is looking at the prospect of spending tens of millions of dollars on added security if guns are allowed in hospitals.
University of Kansas Hospital president and CEO Bob Page is looking at the prospect of spending tens of millions of dollars on added security if guns are allowed in hospitals. The Kansas City Star

Common sense dictates that Kansas doesn’t want guns in its mental hospitals.

But the state is headed precisely in that direction unless lawmakers can rally in the days ahead and agree on exemptions to a gun law passed in 2013. That law gave mental hospitals, other hospitals and the state’s college campuses four years to prepare for the day when firearms would be allowed in their buildings.

The four-year exemption expires July 1. Officials now are scrambling to prepare for that deadline and to understand what they must do to continue to prohibit guns. State law dictates that buildings can remain gun-free if metal detectors are installed and armed guards are hired.

But that costs a whole lot of money.

At the main University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., for instance, president and CEO Bob Page is looking at the prospect of spending tens of millions of dollars on added security for an institution with 100 entrances. Adding guns to an already tense hospital environment teeming with people, and occasionally gang members, is inviting trouble.

“I just can’t imagine bringing guns into that situation,” he told The Star’s editorial board last week.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee in Topeka recently learned what it would take to keep guns out of the Larned and Osawatomie hospitals for the mentally ill. The cost of equipment and security personnel at both would total nearly $25 million.

That doesn’t include the costs of securing state facilities in Topeka and Parsons.

In case you haven’t heard, money is a little tight these days in the Capitol, where lawmakers are battling billion-dollar deficits. So maybe it wasn’t surprising that a Cabinet member from Gov. Sam Brownback’s very pro-gun-rights administration this week mentioned he was concerned about the prospect of guns in mental hospitals — and what it would cost to keep them out.

Tim Keck, secretary of the Department of Aging and Disability Services, insisted the $25 million figure may be high even though his agency produced the estimate.

So far, a bill to extend gun-free exemptions to college campuses and hospitals hasn’t even gotten out of committee. But it now appears likely that House members will soon debate gun measures on the floor. That’s the time to strike.

That the state may be on the hook for millions to secure its facilities has given this issue new momentum. Most Kansans appear to favor gun-free zones. But lawmakers will need to overcome the formidable National Rifle Association to get this done.

The time to stand up is now. No one wants guns in hospitals for the mentally ill. No one.

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