A Wichita lawmaker’s tweet that suggested numerous guns were on the House floor during a debate over concealed weapons Thursday has prompted a call for a rebuke by legislative leadership.
The tweet, coming as the Legislature passed a bill to allow public hospitals to continue prohibiting concealed weapons, also drew attention to the number of lawmakers who have guns in the Statehouse.
Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, tweeted Thursday evening: “Good Evening, #ksleg. On the House Floor, having just gaveled in. We are about to do the Gun bill, and I am so scared.”
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About an hour later, Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, replied.
“Nothing to be scared of, there’s at least 25 guns on the floor of the House right now! #StickersMakeYouSafe.”
The no-gun stickers at the entrances of public hospitals played a prominent role in the debate, with conservatives saying the stickers do nothing to keep guns out of the facilities. The House passed the bill 91-33, sending it to Gov. Sam Brownback.
Clayton posted a screenshot of Whitmer’s reply, adding, “This is happening to me at work.”
The tweet circulated widely within the Kansas political scene, drawing both condemnation and support.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, called the tweet very inappropriate.
“Obviously it’s disgraceful that somebody would put a tweet out like that, somehow imply that armed violence was gonna take place on the floor of the House, I mean that’s what’s implied by that,” Hensley said.
But Brett Hildabrand, a former Republican state lawmaker who is now a lobbyist for the Kansas State Rifle Association, said “sensitivity and faux outrage do not equal ‘threatened.’”
“Point proven: the debate occurred & concluded, in a room full of guns, without violence,” Hildabrand wrote.
A number of law enforcement officers carry guns within the House chamber in addition to some lawmakers, Whitmer said in an interview.
Whitmer estimated a couple dozen lawmakers in the House probably are carrying concealed weapons at any given time. He said he does not carry a gun, however.
A 2013 bill signed by Brownback opened up the Capitol and other public buildings to guns, with concealed weapons allowed into the building in 2014.
The policy has played out mostly without incident. But in January, Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, left a loaded firearm in a committee room. Dove, who regularly carries, said then that it was the first time he remembered some like that happening.
The House chamber is very secure, Whitmer said.
“We have state troopers in the room, we have members of law enforcement in the room and I don’t carry. So my point was there’s nothing to be scared of. That was my point,” Whitmer said.
Call for action
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, called on House leadership to act against Whitmer.
“If you had received this from an everyday citizen, the Capitol police would be all over it. Your leadership needs to sanction him,” Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, wrote.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said Friday morning that he had not seen the tweet exchange. When shown the tweet, he said he didn’t “want to react to something without looking at it and thinking about it.”
Asked in a broader sense about how he handles conflict among members of the Republican House caucus, Ryckman said “lots of times it’s just bringing people in and having conversations.”
Clayton said she wants to focus on her work as a legislator as lawmakers try to end the lengthy 2017 session.
“All I want is for this to go away so that I can concentrate on getting good policy passed,” she said.
In January, Jonathan Holder, who at the time was a commander in the Civil Air Patrol, posted a Facebook comment saying Clayton should “swing from a tree.” Holder made the comment under a Facebook post Clayton shared about a bill she introduced that would permanently exempt Kansas colleges from having to allow concealed handguns on campus.
Clayton alerted Capitol Police and the Overland Park Police Department. Holder later resigned his post.