Topeka Pushing back against what they claim are unreasonable regulations on concealed-carry rights that the University of Kansas and other Regents institutions plan to implement on July 1, gun rights advocates have introduced a new bill in the Legislature that would prohibit public colleges and universities from enacting any limitations.
Officials from KU and the Kansas Board of Regents, however, said individual schools should be allowed to adopt their own policies. And one KU professor said even the current law is already driving top-level high-tech research projects out of the state.
The House Federal and State Affairs Committee heard testimony Thursday on a new bill that would pre-empt regulations that limit how and where people must store weapons, how weapons can be carried, and whether having a round of ammunition in the chamber of a gun is allowed while it's being carried on campus.
National Rifle Association lobbyist Travis Couture-Lovelady, a former state legislator, said a number of schools are preparing to adopt what he considers to be unreasonable limitations. But he singled out KU as being the most egregious.
"Yes, KU's policies are the most egregious, but there are some concerns with some of the other universities as well," he said.
Under a law enacted in 2013, public college and university buildings, along with most other local government buildings, must allow people to carry concealed handguns unless the building has adequate security to prevent anyone from bringing weapons inside. That law takes effect July 1.
The law applies to anyone over age 21 who is not otherwise legally prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm.
The Kansas Board of Regents then instructed each school to draft policies for each of its campuses to implement that law.
KU submitted its weapons policy in October last year, and it was formally approved by the Board of Regents in December.
Among other things, that policy says people carrying concealed handguns must keep those guns "secure on his or her person and concealed from view when not in use for purposes provided by law." If a gun is carried in a handbag, purse or backpack, then that handbag, purse or backpack "must be physically on or in the hands of the person carrying it."
In addition, KU's policy says concealed guns must be secured in a holster that completely covers the trigger. Semi-automatic guns are not allowed to have a round in the chamber, and revolvers must have the hammer resting on an empty cylinder.
Couture-Lovelady said it is unrealistic to expect a woman who carries a gun in her purse to keep that purse in her hand or on her shoulder throughout class.
He also said the requirements that guns have an empty chamber or cylinder would be dangerous, if not impossible, to enforce, and he suggested that KU and other schools were really trying to prevent people from exercising their rights under the new law.
"It's hard to take them at their word when they say they're just trying to put common sense, reasonable regulations on this when (they've) been up here a number of times this year trying to completely get rid of guns on campus completely," he said.
"I believe a lot of these issues on the university-level are just trying to make it more confusing and more restrictive so that students and faculty will just give up and choose not to carry for risk of violating one of these policies," he added.
Kansas Board of Regents Chairwoman Zoe Newton, however, argued that passing the bill would have far-reaching effects on campuses for the upcoming school year.
For example, she said, universities have already mailed out housing contracts to students for the upcoming year, and those contracts include language from the weapons policies that each school has adopted. Passing the bill, she said, would alter the terms of contracts that have already been signed.
Meanwhile, KU engineering professor Ron Barrett-Gonzalez told the committee that the existing law is already driving top-tier faculty out of the state, along with a number of high-tech research projects.
As one example of what he called a "casualty" of the 2013 law, he displayed a life-size model of a "hovering drone missile" being developed at KU — something he said he was allowed to bring into the Statehouse without even being asked about it by security officers — but which will probably be moved to California soon, specifically because of the state's gun laws.
"As I am speaking today, right now, the chief engineer on this program is interviewing at Cal Poly because of our gun laws," he said, referring to California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. "California and other states are eager to cherry-pick our projects like this and others."
One reason projects like the drone missile are leaving, he said, is because standard industry practices and federal regulations "strictly forbid" firearms from facilities where such weapons are being developed and tested.
"Because HB 2220 prevents lab managers from enforcing even the most basic lab safety protocols with respect to weapons, keeping the lab open and continuing experimental work on this aircraft and others like it will be an act of gross negligence," Barrett-Gonzalez said.
Megan Jones, a graduate student and instructor at KU expressed her objections to the bill even more bluntly.
"Campus-carry is only meant to defend and protect white men on campus," she said, prompting a quick warning from committee chairman Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, to focus her remarks on the bill being discussed.
"This is incredibly relevant because the universities cannot make policies that would protect students on our campuses who are at the most risk," she said. "People are being threatened now on our university campuses for being black, for being LGBT, for not appearing the way all of the representatives for the NRA have appeared in front of this Legislature."
The Federal and State Affairs Committee is almost evenly split on the issue of concealed carry. Earlier in the session, a bill that would have exempted public hospitals, clinics and mental health facilities from the law failed by one vote to advance to the full House.
But opponents of the new law believe they have enough votes in the full House to pass legislation that would exempt college and university campuses, as well as public health facilities, and they have said they plan to offer that as an amendment on any gun-related bill that goes to the full House.
Barker had said at the start of the hearing that he planned to bring the bill up for a vote soon. After the hearing, though, he said he had not decided exactly when that would be.
The Federal and State Affairs Committee is exempt from the deadlines that apply to most other committees and can report out bills at any time, up to and including the last day of the session.