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Eagle editorial: Bitterly split on guns

  • Published Wednesday, April 17, 2013, at 6:43 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, April 17, 2013, at 6:43 p.m.

Our “more perfect union” is bitterly split on guns, with recent actions in Sedgwick County and at the Statehouse sharply contrasting with proposals before Congress. If only all the passion and activism could coalesce around something to actually improve public safety.

In Kansas, of course, support for unfettered gun rights is strong among residents and seemingly sacred among elected officials.

On Tuesday Gov. Sam Brownback signed a law that – never mind the legal concerns expressed by an assistant attorney general – declares the feds are powerless to regulate guns and ammunition manufactured, sold and kept only in Kansas. Brownback signed another law on Tuesday intended to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry guns into more public buildings in the state but that, in its final version, wisely followed the Wichita and Sedgwick County model and will enable local officials to exempt certain buildings from concealed-carry as appropriate for security. The latter law will force some hard choices on public universities and colleges and school districts, and likely result in concealed-carry on campuses after 2017 – over the better judgment of the Kansas Board of Regents. But at least legislators decided not to arrest federal agents as they try to enforce federal gun laws or to prohibit most physicians from asking patients if they own firearms. Maybe next year lawmakers will cease the hypocrisy of forcing other government buildings to welcome concealed guns while exempting the Statehouse.

Closer to home, the Sedgwick County Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to approve a resolution to preserve and defend the individual right to keep and bear arms. The redundant gesture won’t do any harm, but neither will it strengthen rights or safeguard the public.

Meanwhile, Kansans are represented on Capitol Hill by a delegation that has shown resistance to even talking about guns in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. That was reflected in the votes last week by Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts against proceeding with the debate on proposed gun legislation.

If there is common ground on guns in America, it’s the need to be more comprehensive in subjecting gun buyers to criminal background checks: National polls show 90 percent or more support expanding the system. A SurveyUSA poll conducted last week in the Wichita and Hutchinson areas for KWCH, Channel 12, similarly found 84 percent support for requiring every gun buyer to go through a criminal background check.

Yet a bipartisan proposal to expand background checks fell short of garnering the needed 60 votes as the Senate began its gun debate Wednesday afternoon (with Moran and Roberts again voting “no”). Maybe there was reason for concern about “government intrusion on private firearm transfers” in the bill, as Roberts said.

Or maybe, at least in the current political environment, there is no point in expecting elected officials at any level to do anything meaningful to prevent more mass shootings.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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