Controversy nominal over proposed constitutional amendments

? The last time Kansas voters changed the state constitution was in 2005 when they approved an amendment that said marriage shall be between one man and one woman.

Nothing that controversial appears on Tuesday’s ballot.

But there are two proposed amendments before voters.

The first one deals with the rights of gun owners, and the second one removes a provision that would allow the Legislature to deny the right to vote to people with mental illness.

Kansans have been owning guns for generations, but supporters of the proposition say it is necessary to clarify a 1905 Kansas Supreme Court ruling, which they say can be interpreted to mean that the right to keep and bear arms is a collective right for militias. The proposed amendment would establish that Kansans have an individual right to own a gun.

If approved by voters, the Kansas Constitution would read:

“A person has the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and state, for lawful hunting and recreational use, and for any other lawful purpose.”

The second proposal is needed, supporters say, because the current Kansas Constitution stigmatizes people with mental illness.

The state constitution now says that the Legislature has the authority to prohibit people with mental illness from voting. The Legislature has never tried to approve a law that would do this, but mental health advocates say the language in the constitution needs to be stricken.

“Two of four presidents carved on Mount Rushmore — Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt — struggled with mental illness,” said Mike Fitzpatrick, national director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “No one has ever suggested that they should have been denied the right to vote.”

Supporters of the amendment say the term mental illness is too broad and could extend to people who simply suffer from depression or attention deficit disorder.

“If we live long enough, it is foreseeable that each of us could acquire some mental health issue,” said Dr. Roy Menninger, who is chairman of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition.

There has been no organized opposition to the amendment, and it has been endorsed by Republican and Democratic candidates for governor.

Still, mental health advocates, worried about what voters will think because of misperceptions about mental illness, launched a statewide campaign to educate the public about the measure and urge support.