First, Kansas lawmakers passed legislation that will allow guns in state psychiatric hospitals.
Now they expect taxpayers to cover the bill for keeping guns out of those same hospitals.
Changing course isn’t cheap. The anticipated costs so far: $12.5 million for metal detectors and other security measures, and another $11.7 million next year and every year going forward to pay armed guards to secure state hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie and two locations for the developmentally disabled. Not included are costs for securing the state’s 26 community mental health centers.
If only legislators would have considered the consequences of allowing concealed weapons in public hospitals before they passed this law in 2013. Now, some appear hesitant to follow through. But they’re not willing to admit they overreached and amend the statute.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback last week requested $24 million to outfit the four facilities with metal detectors and trained guards. The governor is right to want to keep guns out of state hospitals. But wouldn’t it have been easier to not enact the law in the first place?
If Brownback and lawmakers agree that guns shouldn’t be allowed in state psychiatric hospitals, an exemption should be carved out. Other states have done that. Why not Kansas?
Elected officials are reticent to acknowledge that they simply don’t want to spark the ire of the National Rifle Association or the Kansas State Rifle Association. Both entities threaten the seat of any politician willing to buck the idea that more guns equal more safety.
Proponents of the law repeat widely refuted beliefs about gun-free zones, arguing that if a location cannot be locked down so that no one can enter with a weapon, then good Samaritans with concealed carry licenses should be able to pack heat there in case they need to save the day.
Now, with a July 1 deadline approaching, lawmakers should seek the reasonable middle ground of creating an exemption to keep guns out of hospitals. They also could consider an amendment that would allow the secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services to ensure the security of staff and patients. Either way, weapons don’t belong in hospitals.
Legislators should heed the guidance of those most affected by this law. Talk to hospital administrators. Give state hospitals and community centers for the developmentally disabled time to study safety protocols and assess whether metal detectors, guards or other measures are needed at each facility.
In the meantime, fix the flawed and overly broad gun law.
The University of Kansas Health System has implored lawmakers to keep guns out of its buildings. Any exemption for state hospitals should include the health system as well.
This last-minute scramble to secure millions in funding and quickly patch together safety measures could have been avoided.
Now, the governor and lawmakers are in a rush to protect the state from the consequences of their actions.
And taxpayers get the bill.