Kansas gun law may prompt congressional backlash; may force KU to disclose more about weapons policies

photo by: Sara Shepherd

No guns signs are posted on a side door of KU's Art and Design Building, as well as other buildings on campus, pictured in May 2015.

? Marti Priest said she was thrilled when her son decided to go out of state for college and enroll at the University of Kansas to study journalism.

A Kansas native and KU graduate herself, Priest, who now lives near Minneapolis, Minn., said it was exciting to think that her own child wanted to attend the same school she attended.

Priest said they visited the campus in the fall of 2013 and her son, Erik Nelson, quickly fell in love with it. He enrolled in the School of Journalism the next year and is now studying broadcast sports journalism.

But what the two didn’t know at the time was that only a few months earlier, the Kansas Legislature had enacted a law that would soon require KU and other public post-secondary institutions in the state to allow carrying concealed weapons on campus.

That, Priest said, is something they wouldn’t learn about for another year.

“His (instructor) came into his class one day and said, ‘I was just in an active shooter training because here’s what is going on. Kansas is allowing guns on campus,'” Priest said. “That’s how I found out. I didn’t find out from the state of Kansas. I didn’t find out from the Board of Regents. I didn’t find out from the university. I found out because a professor told my son.

“I don’t think that’s how parents should find out that concealed carry is going to be allowed on their kids’ campus,” she said.

If a federal lawmaker has his way, parents and students will have much more notice in the future. The Kansas concealed carry law is a driving force behind proposed federal legislation that would require public universities to provide more information about gun laws on campus.

Nelson and Priest said they approached their congressman, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., to introduce federal legislation that would require schools like KU to provide fuller disclosure of their weapons policies.

The Campus Gun Policy Transparency Act was introduced in the U.S. House Sept. 8. It would require all colleges and universities that receive federal funds to publish their gun policies on their websites and in other promotional material.

It also would also require those schools to collect and publish data about gun-related crimes that are committed on campus, something they are currently not required to do, although they are required to collect and disclose other information about campus safety.

“We put safety ratings on our cars and warning labels on our medications, so it makes sense that we do the same for universities that allow guns on campus,” Ellison said in a news release announcing his bill. “Students have a right to know if their fellow students are bringing guns to class. The Campus Gun Policy Transparency Act allows them and their families to make informed decisions about the safety of their college campuses.”

Kansas lawmakers passed a bill in 2013 that says concealed carry must be allowed in all state and municipal public buildings unless the governing body that owns the buildings provides adequate security at all entrances to prevent anyone from bringing in weapons.

Kansas law generally allows concealed carry by anyone over the age of 21 who is otherwise legally eligible to own a gun. Kansas does not require people to obtain a permit in order to carry concealed weapons.

K-12 public school buildings are exempt from the law, but city, county and university buildings must come into compliance by July 1, 2017.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Kansas is 1 of only 8 states with laws on the books allowing concealed carry on public postsecondary campuses. The others are Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

Of those states, Kansas and Mississippi are the only ones that don’t require people to obtain a permit to carry concealed weapons.

There are 18 states that ban concealed weapons on their campuses altogether. In 23 states, the decision to ban or allow them is made individually by each institution.

Arkansas and Tennessee allow certain faculty to carry concealed weapons, but not students or the general public.

Officials at the Kansas State Rifle Association, which lobbied in favor of the 2013 Kansas law, as well as the National Rifle Association did not respond Monday to requests for comment about the proposed federal legislation.

Priest said she is pushing for the federal disclosure legislation so that parents and students in the future will have more information when selecting a college.

“If this is the kind of culture that we’re going to live in in the United States, then you’ve got to tell these kids, because they’re making a big decision, not only about where they’re going to get an education, but where they’re going to spend a significant amount of money,” she said.

Nelson said he was “shocked” to learn of the concealed carry law, and is not comfortable with the idea of more guns on campus.

Nelson confirmed that’s how they found out about the law.

“It doesn’t make sense to me because if alcohol and nonprescription drugs are not allowed on campus, then an object that can kill a human being in seconds shouldn’t be allowed either,” he said.

Nelson said he has since become active in two campus organizations that are working to oppose the law: Kansans Against Campus Carry and the Kansas Coalition for a Gun-Free Campus. But he said as a non-resident student, there’s only so much he can do through those groups.

“I’m from Minnesota and I don’t have a vote in the state of Kansas,” he said.

KU officials still have not decided what their specific policy will be, university spokesman Tim Caboni said.

In January, the Kansas Board of Regents adopted a policy that will serve as a guideline for what must be included in each school’s policy. The schools themselves, however, have until next month to submit their draft proposals to the board, which will act on them during the board’s monthly meetings in October and November.

Caboni said KU’s policy will address such specific issues as whether to allow concealed carry, or install security, at sports facilities such as Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium. It will also address how much discretion professors and instructors have in allowing students to carry concealed weapons into meetings in their private offices.

So far, the Campus Gun Policy Transparency Act has gathered only six other cosponsors in the House, all of them Democrats, including the non-voting delegate from Washington, D.C. That means its chances of passing the Republican-controlled House are practically non-existent.

But Priest said she and her son aren’t waiting for Congress to act before they make a decision.

“If Kansas doesn’t repeal the university portion of the conceal and carry law, my son is coming home,” Priest said.

She said Nelson is currently applying to other schools in states that don’t allow concealed weapons on campus.