Topeka A Statehouse committee room was packed beyond capacity Thursday as scores of people turned out to voice their support for a bill that would allow public colleges, universities and local governments to continue banning the carrying of concealed weapons in public buildings.
"I am in full support of this bill because I don't want to get shot," said Megan Jones, a graduate student and instructor at the University of Kansas. "I don't want to watch someone else get shot. I don't want to wonder if a guy sitting in my classroom is pulling out a cellphone or a firearm."
In 2013, lawmakers passed a bill requiring that most public buildings allow people to carry concealed weapons unless the governing body in charge of the building provides adequate security to ensure that nobody can bring a weapon inside.
Public colleges and universities, along with cities and counties, were allowed to exempt themselves from that law for four years. That four-year period is set to expire July 1.
Senate Bill 53 would go back and amend that law by repealing the expiration date of the exemption, effectively leaving the exemption in place indefinitely.
The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, which held the hearing Thursday, meets in one of the smaller committee rooms in the Statehouse, and so there were nearly as many people left standing in the corridor outside as there were inside the public seating area.
The vast majority of those were people supporting the bill, and most of those were people concerned about gun safety on campuses. They included students and faculty from KU, Kansas State University, Wichita State University, Washburn University in Topeka and Johnson County Community College.
Dan Hoyt, an associate English professor at Kansas State University, echoed the sentiments of many students and faculty when he said they would never have agreed to come to Kansas if they had known the state was going to allow guns on campus.
"I love Kansas, I met my wife in Kansas, I got my Ph.D. at KU, I believe in this state's history," Hoyt said. "Months ago, my wife and I adopted our baby, who was born in Wichita. But I would never have left my job at a university in Ohio to come to Kansas State if I knew there would be guns on campus."
Officials from the League of Kansas Municipalities and the Kansas Association of Counties also testified in support of the bill, arguing that local governments should have autonomy to make their own decisions about gun policies in their buildings.
The Kansas Hospital Association also testified in support, speaking on behalf of publicly owned hospitals, including Lawrence Memorial Hospital and KU Hospital in Kansas City, Kan.
Dozens had arrived early, suspicious that the hearing time had been moved up an hour to 9:30 a.m. instead of 10:30 without public notice. But it turned out there had been a typographical error on the legislative web page listing information about the bill.
Others coming from Johnson and Wyandotte counties were late to the meeting, or unable to attend at all, because of a fatal vehicle crash on westbound Interstate 70 east of Lawrence that blocked traffic for hours.
The hearing lasted about 90 minutes, with supporters of the bill taking up more than two-thirds of that time. But the committee also heard from gun rights advocates who opposed the bill, including former legislators who helped write it in 2013.
"Current law is the compromise position," said former Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady, R-Palco, who is now a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. "This was worked out a number of years ago, that the universities would have four years to come up with a plan."
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, also attended the hearing, although she is not a member of the committee. She submitted written testimony arguing that while college and university campus communities might be the ones most directly affected if the law goes into effect, the impact of the law would be felt statewide.
"The law has caused both professors and students to leave the university," Francisco wrote. "I have heard from faculty members who are actively seeking other employment and from students who are planning not to continue their education at KU."
The committee only heard testimony on the bill Thursday. The chairman, Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, said he plans to have the committee debate the bill, consider amendments and vote on whether to send it to the full Senate sometime next week.