Regents nix backpack clause from KU’s concealed carry policy, saying requirement is too restrictive for gun carriers

No guns allowed signs are posted on doors leading into Wescoe Hall on the University of Kansas campus on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. Jayhawk Boulevard and Strong Hall are reflected in the glass.

TOPEKA — When the University of Kansas updated its weapons policy to account for concealed handguns being allowed on campus, as required by state law, it added a detail that other state university policies didn’t have.

KU’s policy, which was approved by the Kansas Board of Regents in December 2016, included this: “If a concealed handgun is carried in a handbag, purse or backpack, the handbag, purse or backpack must be physically on or in the hands of the person carrying it.”

KU must take that clause out, the board voted Wednesday.

Instead, KU’s policy will simply read: “Each individual who lawfully possesses a handgun on any of the University campuses shall at all times have that handgun in the person’s custody and control.”

At its April meeting, the Board of Regents governance committee directed KU to cut the backpack clause to make its policy consistent with the policies of the other state universities.

KU, however, didn’t want to make the change and asked for a hearing by the full board.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said the policy was created after extensive feedback from the KU community and with the goal of decreasing the chance of accidental discharge or of others from gaining control of the weapon.

Gray-Little said KU believes the clause is consistent with state attorney general firearm training instructions that say one should never leave a firearm accessible to others or unattended “even for a moment.”

“We believe that it is our obligation as a university to be sensitive to the overwhelming safety concerns expressed on the campus and also to make the university as safe as possible,” Gray-Little said.

“This is not a pretext to prevent gun carry; we rather want to ensure safety of our community.”

Some Regents agreed the backpack clause was acceptable while others — the majority — did not.

The Board voted 6-3 to remove the backpack clause.

Regent Dennis A. Mullin said that he did not believe KU’s policy was in violation of the state law and, as such, saw no reason to make a change.

However, Regent Shane Bangerter said that was debatable.

“Obviously there’s a constitutional right to carry, and when you restrict the ability to carry in certain ways you have to be very cautious that you’re not stepping on that right,” Bangerter said, “and certainly others have interpreted this requirement as violating that.”

Bangerter said the Regents governance committee recommendation was spurred by concerns brought forward by the NRA earlier this spring at the Statehouse.

At a March hearing for a — failed — bill that would have all but stripped universities of the ability to add any restrictions, the Journal-World previously reported, an NRA lobbyist spoke out against what he called unreasonable limitations on guns.

“KU’s policies are the most egregious,” National Rifle Association lobbyist Travis Couture-Lovelady testified at the time, “but there are some concerns with some of the other universities as well.”

Among many criticisms of KU’s policy, 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.

Bangerter said he felt like asking KU to remove the backpack clause from its policy represented a reasonable compromise.

KU’s policy still includes requirements that concealed guns in buildings must be in a holster with the safety on and that holsters must completely cover the trigger area. KU’s policy also says semiautomatic guns must be carried without a chambered round of ammunition, and revolvers must be carried with the hammer resting on an empty cylinder.

The Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act requires state universities to allow the lawful carry of concealed handguns on their campuses beginning July 1.  In order to prohibit guns from buildings, the law says buildings must be equipped with adequate security measures to ensure no guns get in.

KU plans to set up security measures to ban guns from large sporting events, specifically men’s basketball games at Allen Fieldhouse and football games in Memorial Stadium.

KU also has some designated “restricted access areas,” where the law allows for prohibition of guns, but the university and Regents are not making a list of those areas public, citing security concerns.