As the nation mourns those killed in last week’s mass shooting at an Oregon community college, Kansas universities are preparing to implement a law that will allow most people to carry concealed firearms without a permit on campus.
Kansas public universities have authority to ban guns on campus. That will change on July 1, 2017, when they’ll be required to open their institutions to concealed weapons.
The Kansas Board of Regents, which sets policy for the state university system, is studying where and how guns can be controlled without violating the law, said board chairman Shane Bangerter.
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said allowing guns on college campuses is a terrible idea that should be repealed in next year’s legislative session, before it has a chance to take effect.
“I’ve been on TV the last two years saying guns have no place in schools, churches or courthouses,” Ward said. “I don’t know how you could support that (guns on campus) unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last five years.”
Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, voted in favor of gun-friendly colleges. He said he might entertain the idea of supporting some tweaks in the law at the request of the university regents, but he thinks the core concept of allowing guns on campus is sound.
“I just know responsible gun owners make the public safer,” he said.
Mass shooting aftermath
The Kansas Board of Regents has been studying how to accommodate firearms on campus for months, but it’s taken on added urgency in the aftermath of the deadly shooting spree Thursday at Umpqua Community College near Roseburg, Ore.
There, 25-year-old student Christopher Harper-Mercer opened fired on classmates, killing nine and wounding seven. Harper-Mercer also died after exchanging fire with police, although his death was ultimately ruled a suicide.
A student conduct rule generally banned weapons on the Umpqua campus, although Oregon law and a court decision prevented that rule from being enforced against people with concealed-carry permits. National reports have quoted some students as saying they were armed during Thursday’s shooting spree but didn’t try to intervene because they were afraid of being mistaken for the gunman and shot by police responding to the emergency.
In Kansas, two significant laws have passed in recent years that, when combined, will open campuses to concealed carry with or without permits.
In 2012, the Kansas Legislature passed the Personal and Family Protection Act, overriding local gun ordinances statewide and requiring that concealed-carry permit holders be allowed to carry their weapons in almost all public buildings.
Under that law, guns “shall not be prohibited in any state or municipal building unless such building has adequate security measures to ensure that no weapons are permitted to be carried into such building.”
Adequate security is defined in the law as “use of electronic equipment and personnel at public entrances to detect and restrict the carrying of any weapons” into the facilities, “including, but not limited to, metal detectors, metal detector wands or any other equipment used for similar purposes.”
Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a follow-up measure, allowing anyone who can lawfully own a gun to carry it loaded and hidden without a permit.
Given the overwhelmingly pro-gun majorities in the Kansas House and Senate and a pro-gun governor, the policy of opening campuses to guns in 2017 is unlikely to change, said Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University.
He said Kansas is solidly welded to a view of “allow guns everywhere, and if somebody does start shooting the place up, hopefully someone will have a gun and shoot them.”
He said President Obama’s angry speech in reaction to the Oregon shootings shows frustration with a nation that has divided itself into “parallel universes” on gun control.
“In some places, people want to engage on an issue like the shootings and explore possibilities of what can be done to prevent it or reduce it,” Beatty said. “Then there’s the other universe, which I think Kansas is in, where if it stops anyone from getting a gun, anytime anywhere, we don’t want to talk about it.”
Universities are currently operating under a four-year exemption to the protection act, which started July 1, 2013, to allow them to plan and prepare for opening campuses to firearms.
While courthouses, city halls and some other public buildings can ban guns because they have armed guards and metal detectors at the entries, that’s been determined to be impractical at the universities that have hundreds of buildings with several entrances each, Bangerter said.
Bangerter said current thinking is that guns could be banned from secured laboratories and other buildings where entry requires a key, card or code.
The biggest question is what to do about dormitories, he said.
Many dorms do require a key for resident students to enter but also act as a kind of quasi-public gathering space for the campus community.
“Obviously, we have thousands of students in the dorms at KU and K-State and other universities coming and going all the time,” Bangerter said. “Is that enough restricted access? Lawyers, maybe the attorney general, will have to figure that out for us.”
Another major question revolves around sporting events. Guns currently are banned at state universities’ stadiums and arenas.
Stadium attendees generally now go through a light screening process, with gate checkers primarily looking in purses and bags for banned items. People with bulky coats are asked to unzip them.
Bangerter said that won’t be enough to satisfy the requirements of the Personal and Family Protection Act. Universities will probably need to make that a more deliberate process, funneling fans in through fewer entrances where they can be screened with metal detectors, as the law requires.
That could mean some significant changes at large events like Wichita State basketball, which sells out about 10,000 seats for every game at Koch Arena, and Kansas State football, which routinely draws 50,000-plus fans to Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
In terms of searching fans entering the stadium, “we aren’t very intrusive yet,” said Brad Pittman, associate athletic director for facilities at WSU.
Implementing metal screening can be done – the Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita and NFL football stadiums do it all the time, Pittman said.
But he said it will “cost a lot of money” and “it will add some time” getting fans into the arena.
Fans may have to change their habits and get to their seats earlier, he said.
Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.