Opinion: Lawmakers, citizens divided on guns

Kansas has some of the most permissive gun laws in the country, and last week the state house began debate on a bill that, if passed, would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to further enshrine gun rights in the state constitution.

The proposed amendment would change the language of Section 4 of the Kansas Bill of Rights to include possession and use of ammunition, firearm accessories and firearm components as constitutionally protected rights. It would also add:

The right to keep and bear arms is a natural and fundamental right. This shall not be infringed. Any restriction of such right shall be subject to the strict scrutiny standard.

In 1905, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in Salina v. Blaksley that the current language in Section 4 does not protect an individual right to bear arms. In more recent cases, the court has also rejected arguments that use Section 4 to challenge state and local statutes regulating firearms.

Should the state constitution be amended, it would only allow the Legislature to regulate firearms if it furthered a “compelling governmental interest” and was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.

Not to mention, federal regulations would still supersede state law — a relationship currently being reinforced as Missouri’s Second Amendment Preservation Act makes its way through the federal court system.

Importantly, this proposed amendment contradicts Kansans’ public opinion on gun regulation.

A vast majority of Kansans support restrictions beyond the state’s current regulations.

In fall 2022, the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University asked Kansans about 10 gun regulation policies in their annual Kansas Speaks public opinion survey.

More than 70% of those surveyed favored six of the 10 policies: requiring universal background checks; requiring a person to be 21 or older; mandatory three-day waiting period; preventing sales to people who have been reported as dangerous by mental health providers; preventing sales to people who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors; and allowing family members to ask the court to temporarily remove guns from people at risk of harming themselves or others.

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed favored authorizing law enforcement officers to temporarily remove guns from individuals who pose an immediate threat of harm to self or others.

And more than 50% of those surveyed favored: banning assault-style weapons; banning high-capacity ammunition clips; and having teachers with appropriate training carry guns at school.

Perhaps surprising to some, a majority of the state’s gun owners also favored nine of these 10 policies. Banning assault style weapons was the only exception; supported by 45% of gun owners, opposed by 38%, and neither favored nor opposed by 17%. Note: nearly half (49%) of Kansans surveyed had a firearm in their home.

As is often the case, proposed gun laws contradict public opinion on the issue, and Kansas is no exception.

Political science research can help us understand why the Legislature has introduced an amendment that would make it harder to enact extremely popular gun regulations into law.

For nearly two decades, research has shown that energy has ebbed and flowed among pro-regulation groups while pro-gun groups have been able to sustain political activism.

However, new research found that gun policy has become a durable issue of public concern due to the increased mobilization among pro-regulation citizens in recent years; marking a fundamental shift in public engagement on the gun issue.

The disconnect between public opinion and legislative action in Kansas underscores the complex relationship between policy decisions and popular sentiment, especially in a changing political environment.

— Alexandra Middlewood is the department chair of political science at Wichita State University.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.