TOPEKA — Public schools and state colleges in Kansas could designate workers to carry concealed guns even if such weapons are banned inside their buildings under a bill that a legislative committee approved Wednesday.
The measure approved by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee also would require the state, cities, counties and townships to allow concealed guns in their buildings unless they have electronic equipment and officers to check for weapons at public entrances. State law now generally bans concealed weapons in courthouses, state offices and other public buildings where officials post notices.
The bill, HB 2055, would allow state institutions of higher education, government-owned hospitals and nursing homes to still prohibit guns for four years, exempting themselves from the security check requirement. But committee members added amendments to allow local school boards and university and college presidents to designate employees who could carry concealed weapons inside their buildings.
The committee's action on gun-rights legislation comes amid unusually high interest among Kansans in obtaining concealed carry permits from the state and as the federal government discusses gun-control measures in the wake of a mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December.
More than 53,000 people have obtained concealed carry permits since the state began issuing them in 2006. Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office reported that 3,573 people applied for permits in February, up from the previous record of 3,167 in January. Before this year, the previous record was 1,651 applications in March 2012.
“A lot of people right now are worried that the federal government is doing an overreach,” freshman Rep. Ken Corbet said.
The committee's voice vote Wednesday sent the bill to the full House for debate.
Supporters of the measure say it will make schools and colleges safer while allowing their officials to limit the carrying of concealed weapons to employees they trust and who have a valid state permit.
“All the laws we pass here are only followed by law-abiding citizens,” said Corbet, a Topeka Republican and owner of a hunting lodge. “It seems like all the people who are doing all this damage are going after soft targets.”
But Rep. Annie Tietze, a Topeka Democrat who was a teacher for 30 years, questioned whether the measure would make schools safer.
“It's a very risky decision to make for the lives of everybody concerned,” she said after the committee's meeting.
Gun rights advocates in Kansas have said they're most concerned about proposals for a federal ban on some military and law enforcement-style weapons, an idea President Barack Obama supports. They said such a ban is likely to cover weapons owned by millions of Americans and could lead to attempts to confiscate them despite protections for gun rights under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The committee already has passed a measure declaring that the federal government has no power to regulate firearms, ammunition or gun accessories manufactured, sold and kept only in Kansas. That measure makes it a felony for a federal agent to attempt to enforce laws, regulations or treaties restricting access to such firearms, ammunition or accessories.
The House hasn't yet scheduled debate on either gun rights bill.
Rep. Brett Hildrabrand, a conservative Shawnee Republican who's also pushing for new gun rights legislation, said the goal is also to make sure that law-abiding concealed carry permit holders aren't unfairly denied their right to carry concealed weapons by local or state officials who don't support the policy, though it's enshrined in state law.
He said officials “don't have to spend a dime on this” if they let permit holders carry their weapons into buildings.
But some local officials oppose the bill. Mike Taylor, a lobbyist for the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County, said boosting security at places other than courthouses and city halls would prove too expensive.
“It coerces or forces us to allow concealed carry in those buildings,” Taylor said.