Topeka An effort to force a debate on gun policy in the Kansas House failed Tuesday when lawmakers who want to narrow a concealed-carry law that takes effect July 1 did not muster enough votes to bring a bill onto the House floor against the wishes of Republican House leaders.
But even Republicans who support the current gun law said there will be a debate this session over guns on college campuses and other public facilities.
“We’re going to have an open and fair debate on that, but not by rolling the speaker of the House,” Rep. John Whitmer, a Republican gun rights advocate from Wichita, said after the vote.
Supporters of the move wanted to exempt college and university campuses, as well as publicly owned health care facilities, from a law that will soon require them to allow people to carry concealed firearms in those facilities, but they needed a majority vote to bring an unrelated gun bill up on the daily calendar so it could be amended.
That motion failed, 44-81, when a large number of moderate Republicans who had previously expressed support for paring back the concealed-carry law voted against the move to force a debate.
“It’s a reflection of their desire to see the process of negotiations play out,” House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, said after the vote.
Hineman said there are still talks going on, “for a fairly narrowly defined solution that would solve at least part of the issues surrounding concealed-carry.”
“I don’t want to go into the detail because I don’t want to bias that process of negotiations, but we’re still hopeful that we can get to a resolution in that way,” he said.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, however, said that should not have prevented the House from taking up the debate.
“I’m all in favor of discussing issues and trying to reach consensus, but let’s have the debate. Let’s find out where the House is at on this so you know where the votes are,” Ward said.
The bill that Democrats wanted to bring up was one that Attorney General Derek Schmidt had requested. It would have made it easier for Kansans to carry concealed weapons in other states that require people to have concealed-carry permits.
Democrats wanted to propose two amendments to that bill: one that would have exempted public hospitals, community mental health centers and other publicly owned health care facilities from a law that will son require them to allow people to carry concealed firearms in public buildings; and a second that would have exempted public colleges and universities from that same law.
Those proposals were debated earlier in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, but only one, dealing with hospitals and health care facilities, was ever brought up for a vote, and it narrowly failed.
During testimony in those hearings, lobbyists for the National Rifle Association and the Kansas State Rifle Association voiced strong opposition, and neither group indicated it was willing to concede any ground.
Large numbers of other people, however, voiced strong support for those measures, including groups representing students and faculty on university campuses as well as officials from the University of Kansas hospital in Kansas City, Kan., and other municipally owned health care facilities.
During a caucus meeting before Tuesday’s vote, however, some Democrats said they were frustrated that neither the Kansas Board of Regents nor any of the chief university officers in Kansas spoke out one way or another about the issue.
Ward suggested that was because voting to scale back the concealed-carry law could endanger moderate Republicans in the Legislature whom the universities need to protect higher education funding.
“The third rail of politics in the Republican caucus is Kansans for Life and the NRA, and the NRA carries too big of (a stick),” he said. “The universities have been cut ... over the last couple of years. They’re worried about budget issues. They’re worried that it puts moderates in a bad position to protect their budgets next year, or two years from now. There’s a lot of factors in there.”
Only four Republicans, including Lawrence Rep. Tom Sloan, voted with the 40 Democrats to support the motion.
Sloan said he was skeptical that there are serious negotiations taking place with the NRA and Kansas State Rifle Association.
“There have been attempts, but my understanding is the NRA simply says hell no,” he said. “That’s why I voted for the motion because I thought if we actually did something on the House floor in a positive sense, that would encourage the NRA to come together at the table and fruitfully decide how we can protect Second Amendment rights and at the same time restrict weapons in unreasonable locations like mental health clinics.”
Whitmer, however, said both sides in the debate have been unwilling to compromise.
“It’s a one-issue organization, so there’s not a whole lot of flexibility,” Whitmer said of the NRA. “But the last I heard, the KU (hospital) wasn’t willing to negotiate much either.”
The House’s action Tuesday means the gun bill remains on the House calendar, but is currently not scheduled for debate or a vote.
“That bill will come up, there will be amendments and we will have that open debate at some point,” Whitmer said. “But it will be at the discretion of the speaker, not the minority leader.”