Kansas House backs arming teachers, hears bill to make doing so easier

photo by: Peter Hancock

Rep. Blake Carpenter, left, R-Derby, questions Rep. Brett Parker, D-Overland Park, during debate on Parker's proposal to repeal a law that allows school districts to let teachers carry concealed firearms in classrooms, Tuesday, March 27, 2018, at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

? The Kansas House voted down a proposal Tuesday to repeal a 2013 law that gives school districts the option of allowing teachers to carry concealed firearms.

And while it is believed that none of the state’s 286 school districts have taken advantage of that law, primarily because of liability insurance issues, Tuesday’s vote came just a few hours after a House committee heard testimony on a bill aimed at addressing those insurance issues.

Rep. Brett Parker, D-Overland Park, who is also a teacher in the Olathe school district, offered the proposal as an amendment onto a bill that represents the Republican House leadership’s package of school safety improvements.

photo by: Peter Hancock

Rep. Blake Carpenter, left, R-Derby, questions Rep. Brett Parker, D-Overland Park, during debate on Parker's proposal to repeal a law that allows school districts to let teachers carry concealed firearms in classrooms, Tuesday, March 27, 2018, at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

“As an educator, I think this (2013 law) makes it less likely, should this policy be implemented by school districts, that teachers will come to Kansas and remain in Kansas,” he said. “I’ve heard from several who have talked about leaving the profession should their district adopt this policy.”

The 2013 law was just one part of a bill that expanded the right of individuals to carry concealed firearms and mandating that concealed weapons be allowed in virtually all public buildings, including college and university campuses, unless those buildings provide adequate security to prevent anyone from carrying in a gun.

A spokesman at the Kansas Association of School Boards, however, said KASB is not aware of any district that has implemented such a policy. Officials at the Kansas State Department of Education also said they were not aware of any.

Shortly after the law passed in 2013, EMC Insurance Companies, one of the largest providers of insurance to school districts in Kansas, issued a statement saying “EMC has concluded that concealed handguns on school premises pose a heightened liability risk.”

“Because of this increased risk, we have chosen not to insure schools that allow employees to carry concealed handguns,” the statement said.

Opponents of Parker’s amendment, however, said local school boards should still have the option of deciding that issue for themselves.

“Do you believe that local elected officials don’t have the wherewithal to make these types of decisions for their local communities?” Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, asked Parker during debate on the amendment.

“I believe that this is an issue that has to do with the branding of the state of Kansas, the appeal of Kansas as a place to bring your children and go to school, and a place to come and be an educator, and for that reason I think this is a decision we are qualified to make at the state level,” Parker replied.

Parker’s amendment failed, 44-79, in a vote that may have signaled the strength of the pro-gun rights coalition in the House.

photo by: Peter Hancock

Lawrence High School students Chisato Kimura, left, Samantha Turner, Quinlan Muller, Anna Osterhaus and Rollin Love listen Tuesday, March 27, 2018, during a legislative committee hearing on a bill that would make it easier for school districts to allow teachers to carry firearms in class. Some of the students planned to testify against the bill but were not called upon to speak.

Lowering insurance costs

Earlier in the day, the House Insurance Committee heard overwhelming public opposition to the idea of allowing teachers to carry firearms in their classrooms.

House Bill 2789 is aimed at lowering the cost of insuring districts that choose to let their employees carry concealed firearms by prohibiting insurance companies from refusing to provide that coverage to districts that choose to do so, and from charging unfair and discriminatory premiums for those districts.

Carpenter, a principal author of that bill, said it’s intended to help small, rural districts that can’t afford to hire school resource officers, or SROs, to maintain security in their buildings.

“The individuals who come from large metropolitan areas can afford to have an SRO, versus some of the other members in the committee that come from rural communities, and they cannot afford to have an SRO on staff, and law enforcement help could be anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes away,” he told the Insurance Committee. “And that could be a serious and grave danger to the population inside the school.”

Only a handful of people testified in favor of the bill, including Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, the other author of the bill; a lobbyist for the Kansas State Rifle Association; and a math teacher in the Wichita school district, Joseph Clay, who is also an Iraq War veteran.

“I take it personally when the safety and sanctity of our schools are threatened, and I will not stand idly by and watch my four children attend school each day knowing that I have done nothing to ensure their safe return home,” Clay said.

But many more people were lined up to testify against the bill, including teachers, school administrators and parents, many of whom had taken part in the “March for Our Lives” demonstrations on Saturday. And approximately 200 additional people submitted written testimony, according to committee records.

One group that did not get to testify, however, were students from Lawrence High School who had taken the morning off to come to Topeka to show their opposition to the bill.

“I’m a little bit frustrated and disappointed since this is an issue that directly affects students,” Chisato Kimura, a Lawrence High School senior, said after the hearing. “I think students should have been given an opportunity to speak. I heard no one who was a student of a Kansas public school speak or be given an opportunity to speak.”

“I also was planning on testifying today but I didn’t get a chance to,” sophomore Samantha Turner said. “I am extremely frustrated that we didn’t get a chance to see the perspective of students today.”

The committee did not take action on the bill Tuesday. Committee Chairman Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, did not announce when he plans to bring it up for a committee vote.