Politics & Government

February 13, 2012

House bill would allow students to carry guns on campus

University of Kansas senior Dillon Barnes wants to take his Glock 19 handgun to class.

University of Kansas senior Dillon Barnes wants to take his Glock 19 handgun to class.

Barnes, 24, has had a concealed-carry permit for three years. He said he is not paranoid and feels perfectly safe on campus – but he is a realist.

“I would argue that students at the University of Texas felt safe before the shooter there, and the students of Virginia Tech felt safe there. I want to be able to defend myself if something ever happens,” he said, referring to Virginia Tech University, where 32 students were shot and killed in 2007, and the University of Texas, where a gunman fired shots into a library in 2010.

Kansas is one of 49 states that allow the concealed carry of handguns. But handguns can be prohibited in state-owned buildings, on college campuses, in local government buildings and in some hospitals, if the agency occupying the building posts a sign prohibiting firearms.

Some Kansas legislators want to change this.

This week, the House is expected to consider HB 2353, which would allow concealed-carry permit holders to take guns into government buildings unless the buildings have metal detectors or adequate equipment to screen out weapons.

Guns still would be prohibited at the State Capitol complex, the governor’s residence and county courthouses.

Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, who introduced the bill, said signs prohibiting guns limit the Second Amendment rights of concealed-carry permit holders. The measure is simple, he added.

“If it’s a publicly owned building and there is no security, then you are not allowed to post signs saying, ‘no guns,’ ” he said.

The idea of armed students has left campus police, the Kansas Board of Regents and student government members across the state uneasy.

Wichita State student body president Matthew Onstott traveled to Topeka with student body leaders from Pittsburg State, KU and Kansas State to lobby against the bill.

“You look at it in the sense as it’s not allowed in the Capitol, and the Capitol is a place where people debate and have opinions,” Onstott said. “Another place where you have hot opinions and people get upset is in a school. You have someone who has a different stance and they don’t change to where you want it, you might get a rash decision.”

Knox disagreed with Onstott’s assessment and said the majority of those with concealed-carry licenses are responsible.

“What you are assuming is these are morons that are carrying guns,” Knox said. “I mean, there may be one or two that get by the screening process and so on. But by and large, these are people who take it very serious.”

Nearly 40,000 Kansans have concealed-carry licenses, including 7,923 in Sedgwick County. In 2010, the state suspended 39 concealed-carry licenses for criminal offenses, including seven for aggravated assault with a firearm, and five for carrying a firearm under the influence of alcohol.

Crimes on campus

Some opponents of the bill, including Wichita State police chief Paul Dotson, say the low number of violent crimes on campus does not justify allowing students to take guns to class.

In 2011, three violent crimes were reported on WSU’s campus – a robbery, a rape and an aggravated assault. In 2010, there were seven violent crimes at KU and nine violent crimes at Kansas State.

To get a concealed-carry license, applicants must be over 21, submit to a background check, have no previous felonies, take eight hours of weapons training and be approved by the county sheriff’s office.

That training might not be enough to prepare permit holders to deal with a dangerous situation in a confined place such as a classroom, Dotson said.

“Are you able in those eight hours of training to make the right choices for the safety of all?” he asked.

Barnes said he thought his training was adequate to handle a dangerous situation but said he didn’t know how he would react.

“It’s all a hypothetical,” he said. “I can tell you for sure, though, that if something does happen, it gives me better odds.”

Dotson worried that students defending themselves could cause confusion for police officers dealing with a campus shooter.

“We wouldn’t know the good guys from the bad,” he said.

Utah State allows guns

Utah is the only state that allows students to conceal and carry on campus.

Utah State University campus police respond to two to three calls a year concerning guns on campus. All the calls have been false alarms, but they still have caused problems, said police Capt. Steve Milen.

“You need to keep it concealed because the people in class are alarmed,” he said. He added that the measure has been negatively received since its implementation in 2007.

Barnes said he thinks fears will subside once people get used to the idea.

“There is a fear people have of this unknown, but I think very quickly students and lecturers are going to find out nothing really changes in their eyes.”

Knox said the proposed bill has a high likelihood of passing the House.

The real difficulty for the bill lies in the more moderate Senate. An almost identical bill passed the House in 2010 before dying in a Senate committee.

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