Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but there’s a gun battle going on in Kansas.
Don’t feel bad if you haven’t. The two sides don’t even agree what’s in the crosshairs.
On one side, groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence say nothing short of normalcy is at stake.
“The NRA and the gun lobby want to normalize carrying guns anytime, anyplace and, as a result, the country is at a real critical point,” said Brian Malte, director of state legislation for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “What we’re saying is, that isn’t normal behavior.”
On the other side, the aforementioned National Rifle Association says the integrity of the Constitution is on the line.
“Some folks would argue with us that the right to carry a firearm for personal protection is not a fundamental right, but we now have two Supreme Court cases that have affirmed it,” said Jordan Austin, the NRA lobbyist assigned to Kansas.
Forget about brokering a truce between those two sides. It seems they’ve been disagreeing since Moses (at least the one played by former NRA leader Charlton Heston).
But make no mistake about this: Kansas is in the field of battle. After the Kansas Legislature last session agreed to loosen the restrictions on who could receive a license to carry a concealed firearm, questions have emerged on whether Kansas will be next to follow a recent Arizona law that makes it legal to carry concealed weapons without any permit.
“That is fundamentally what we believe, but it is not a political reality in some states,” Austin said of not needing a license to carry concealed. “But we’re doing what we can to move closer to that, and I think Kansas has taken a big step forward. Arizona sent a great message and I already have had legislators in Kansas say, are we next? Let’s start considering this.”
As the Journal-World reported last month, the Legislature removed several of the reasons the Kansas Attorney General’s office could deny a concealed carry permit to an applicant. Essentially, the new law allows anyone who qualifies to possess a gun under federal and state laws to also receive a license to carry it concealed.
As a result, it no longer is permissible to deny a license to a person who has been:
• Convicted of two DUIs during the last five years.
• Convicted of carrying under the influence in another state during the last five years.
• Documented to have attempted suicide during the last five years.
In addition, the new law removed a provision that required concealed-carry license holders to submit to a breath test if a law enforcement officer suspected they were carrying a weapon under the influence. If they refused, they lost their license. Now, license holders must only consent to a test if they’ve shot someone.
None of the changes surprise Malte.
“We see this going on all over the country,” Malte said. “Most of the calls I get are about how state by state the NRA is continually dismantling the concealed carry permitting process that they actually worked to set up in the first place.”
Malte calls the NRA’s tactics the “ultimate level of hypocrisy.” Austin, though, said there’s nothing hypocritical about the movement. He said it is a result of the Supreme Court making the protections of the Second Amendment clearer. The court issued what are largely considered the most significant Second Amendment rulings of the last decade in 2008 and 2010 in the Heller and McDonald cases.
“I think that is causing a lot of states to evaluate how their gun laws are written,” Austin said.
In some cases, that’s causing lawmakers to recognize that gun law isn’t always analogous to other state laws. Austin said some of the changes in Kansas law go to that point.
For example, he said he has heard arguments that the laws governing concealed carry and alcohol violations should be much like the laws governing alcohol and driving. A Kansas driver who refuses to submit to a breath test, for instance, still loses his or her driver’s license.
But Austin said there’s a large difference.
“The fundamental difference we see is that a driver’s license is a privilege,” Austin said. “A right to carry a firearm is a right.”
If you think this issue is being driven entirely from the right side of the political spectrum, think again.
Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, signed the bill. Attorney General Stephen Six, a Democrat whose office is responsible for administering the concealed carry program, sent a representative to testify in support of the bill.
But representatives for both politicians were reluctant to discuss specifics about their bosses’ support for many of the provisions in the bill.
Amy Jordan Wooden, press secretary for Parkinson, declined to answer questions about why the governor believed provisions related to DUIs, alcohol testing and carrying under the influence needed to be changed. She said those questions should be directed to members of the Legislature.
Gavin Young, a spokesman with Six’s office, said the attorney general supported the underlying concept of the bill, but Young declined to address whether Six supported several of the specific changes in the bill.
The bill passed both houses of the Legislature overwhelmingly — 37-2 in the Senate and 103-15 in the House. Whether many of the legislators knew all of the provisions in the bill is unclear. At least one area legislator was surprised to learn of the alcohol-related changes. Several summaries of the bill did not address many of the specific provisions that would be changed.
“Many of those changes don’t sound good,” said Rep. Tom Sloan, who voted for the bill.
Sloan R-Lawrence, said he was surprised the attorney general’s office and state law enforcement groups didn’t do more to raise concerns with the bill.
Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, did vote against the bill. But he’s not surprised more opposition didn’t surface. He said the concealed carry issue just doesn’t receive much discussion among the Kansas public.
“One of the reasons these bills are sailing through the Legislature is that there is absolutely no organized opposition to these efforts,” Davis said.
Expect more talk about concealed carry in future legislative sessions. Austin, with the NRA, did not rule out seeking legislation that would allow Kansans to carry concealed without going through a license process.
Some lawmakers said they weren’t sure such a measure would be successful. Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, serves on the House’s Federal and State Affairs Committee, which hears many of the concealed carry issues. He said he would be open to considering such a law, but thought the current makeup of the Legislature would prevent it from passing.
Instead, he said provisions that allow concealed carry licensees to enter government buildings that do not provide metal detectors or other security ought to be reconsidered. Such a provision was originally included in last year’s legislation but was stripped out when formal opposition did emerge.
Both the League of Kansas Municipalities and the Board of Regents objected to that provision. Currently, governments can post their buildings with “no guns” signs.
Brown thinks a law to change that may have a chance in the future.
“If you or I are a violent person, do you really think that sign is going to cause us to go put our guns up and go get our knives?” Brown said. “That sign is not enough to protect anyone’s safety.”