The Kansas House this week is expected to hear one of several bills that could allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring their firearms into state-owned and municipal buildings, including college campuses.
Despite failed attempts by the Legislature to pass similar laws in recent years, some Kansas policymakers say a more conservative House and Senate increases the chance the measure will become reality by the close of the current session.
“I think you have a much more favorable Senate toward these things this year,” said Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, who represents portions of southeast Kansas.
Last year, a bill identical to the one under consideration this week passed the House but died in a Senate committee.
“I think it’ll get through, but I’m not sure what form it will be in,” he said.
Some of the bill’s opponents, like Luis Carbajal, say there is no need to reconsider the expansion because they maintain most students don’t want concealed guns on campus.
“What if someone has a little bit of rage? What if somebody doesn’t like something?” asked Carbajal, a Wichita State University senior and president of its Student Government Association. “Someone could reach over and take another’s gun” in the classroom.
“You’re just opening up a can of worms.”
All student government associations at Kansas Regents institutions have approved resolutions that oppose concealed weapons on their campuses, the Associated Press reported.
Pittsburg State University’s Student Senate adopted its resolution Feb. 6, even after an informal survey showed less than half of its students — 44 percent — opposed concealed firearms on campus; 53 percent were in favor.
Carbajal said of the state Legislature: “As a student, I’m kind of appalled that they would feel that it would be necessary to do this.”
Crime on campus
Last year two violent crimes – a rape and a robbery – were reported on WSU’s campus.
The University of Kansas saw similar numbers in 2011, with two violent crimes – an aggravated assault and a robbery. Kansas State University had nine: seven forcible sex offenses and two aggravated assaults, crime data shows.
“University and college campuses are safe,” Kansas Board of Regents spokeswoman Vanessa Lamoreaux said.
“Less than 1 percent of all crimes committed in 2011 occurred on university campuses,” she added, citing crime data collected by the FBI.
But Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, said expansion of the concealed-carry law is not only a matter of Second Amendment rights. It’s also about keeping people safe in public buildings.
“I think there’s a growing sense on the part of the public to protect our kids in public places,” Brunk said, referring to safety concerns raised after a shooting spree claimed 26 lives last year at a Newton, Conn., elementary school.
“Generally those places don’t provide any sense of security. It leaves people vulnerable to these types of attacks.”
“My point is, let’s think about security,” he said. “ … Criminals and disturbed people know there are no guns and these are the kinds of buildings those people are seeking out.”
Permits on rise
In 2006, Kansas became one of the last states to adopt a concealed carry law; it took effect in 2007.
As of Feb. 1, 52,317 Kansans had active concealed-carry permits, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Last month the state received a record 3,167 concealed-carry applications — nearly double the previous one-month record of 1,651, set in March 2012.
Under law, concealed-carry licensees must be 21 or older, undergo a background check, have no felonies and be approved by the county sheriff’s office.
They also must complete eight hours of weapons training.
That’s not enough, in K-State police Capt. Don Stubbings’ view, to halt a threat on campus.
“It’s a very dangerous situation when we go in and try to stop a threat in a crowded area,” Stubbings said of K-State’s police force, which includes 21 commissioned, armed officers.
“We have special equipment to respond to an active shooter that conceal carriers do not. That training is key.”
He added weapons drawn by concealed carriers usually “add to confusion in a chaos situation” because police can’t immediately discern an active gunman from the Good Samaritan with the concealed handgun.
“Whether it passes or doesn’t pass, we’re going to provide a safe campus,” Stubbings said of the House bill under consideration this week.
“That’s of utmost importance.”