Topeka Supporters of carrying concealed guns in Kansas will reload when the 2013 legislative session starts in January.
“We can trust the average Kansan to carry a deadly weapon,” said Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona. “It is not the weapon that is evil; it is criminals that misuse weapons.”
Knox was elected to the Kansas Senate in November and will take that position in January.
During the last legislative session, Knox pushed a bill that would allow concealed-carry permit holders to take their weapons into public buildings, such as university classrooms, dorms, city halls and other such structures if those buildings didn’t have devices such as metal detectors designed to detect illegal weapons.
During House debate on the measure, there was a provision put in the House bill that would have allowed universities to exempt themselves, but they have to reconsider that decision after four years. Another amendment exempted hospitals, such as Kansas University Hospital.
Knox said that when the Legislature convenes in January, he will introduce the bill in the form that it was in when the House approved it. But he noted that because of the dramatic change of members in the House, the bill may be further amended. In January, 52 members in the 125-member House will be new.
Knox argues that expanding where Kansans can carry concealed weapons improves safety by putting firearms within easy reach of law-abiding citizens.
Higher education officials opposed Knox’s bill and worked to get the opt-out amendment for colleges put on the bill. They were pleased when Senate leaders ignored the whole package.
But because those moderate Republican leaders voted out of the Senate during the GOP primary in August, the fight is on again.
“Our position is we still don’t believe that guns on campus is a good option,” said Mary Jane Stankiewicz, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Board of Regents. Campuses are actually safer than the communities they are in, she said, so a guns-increase-safety argument doesn’t wash.
And she pointed to testimony on the bill from Richard Johnson, associate vice chancellor for public safety and police chief at KU Medical Center.
Speaking on behalf of all university police chiefs in Kansas, Johnson said increasing the number of guns on campuses would produce greater risk and confusion during a crisis.
If police receive a report of an armed individual on campus, “How does the responding officer know which person in the classroom of 300 students is legally in possession of a firearm or is armed with the intention of killing others?” Johnson asked.
But Knox maintains that public buildings that show a sign prohibiting against carrying a weapon inside are invitations to criminals.
“When people will give it rational thought they see the logic that a sign, prohibiting concealed carry, does not make them more secure. It makes them less secure, in reality, because criminals have weapons and appreciate knowing locations where others do not,” he said.
KU Student Body President Hannah Bolton said she and other students frequently discuss the issue of concealed carry on campus.
“As student body president, I care deeply about the safety of the student body, and I do not believe that allowing people to carry weapons on campus will create a safer environment for students and faculty,” Bolton said.
She said student leaders from the six regents universities lobbied against Knox’s bill last session and will do so again in the next session.
But supporters of the bill also say that people who get concealed-carry licenses are extremely law abiding.
In fiscal year 2011, which ran from July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011, the attorney general’s office issued 8,295 concealed-carry licenses.
During that same year, 25 applications were denied, 39 concealed-carry licenses were suspended and 127 licenses were revoked.
Eighteen of the 25 applications denied were rejected because of disqualifying criminal history or the applicant was subject to a protection from abuse order.
The 39 license suspensions occurred because the license holder was charged with a crime, including seven that were assault with a firearm.
Of the 127 license revocations, most were revoked because the licensee moved out of state, but some were revoked because of criminal convictions, including sex and drug crimes.
Officials at University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado Springs campuses have set up “gun dorms” for students with concealed-carry permits, but no one has asked to live in one. Gun rights advocates say that is probably because students who carry concealed weapons don’t want to move.