TOPEKA — Residents authorized to carry a concealed handgun should be able to defend themselves if the government can't guarantee their safety, gun proponents say. That's the idea behind a bill that would allow people with concealed-carry permits to take their firearms into state or municipal buildings that don't have "adequate security measures" such as metal detectors and trained guards.
That means places like the Capitol, Intrust Bank Arena and college campuses.
"If they are going to strip me of my right (to carry a firearm) then they need to take responsibility for my safety," said Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association.
Opponents of the bill say installing the security measures at all entry points of public buildings would be cost-prohibitive.
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"Our security leaders here on campus believe that more guns on campus do not advance safety or more learning on campus," said Donald Beggs, president of Wichita State University.
Putting metal detectors and staff at entry points on the campus's almost 60 buildings and stadiums would detract from the campus' openness as well, he said.
Nearly 24,740 people are licensed to carry a concealed handgun in Kansas, according to the Attorney General's Office. The state began issuing concealed-carry permits in 2007.
"The process in general has worked very well because of our background check process," said Charles Sexson, the concealed-carry program's director.
Public buildings that want to bar permit holders now can do so by posting an approved "no gun" sign at entrances. The proposed law would require the security measures in addition to the signs.
Concealed-carry permit holders are law-abiding citizens who went through training and background checks before receiving the permit, Stoneking said. They would obey posted signs barring handguns from buildings, but criminals would not.
"That sign is meaningless to the people, to the criminals, to the bad guys, to those that would intend to do harm," she said. "They don't obey the law to begin with."
On campus, student reaction was mixed.
Patricia Blecha, a sophomore at Wichita State University, said she would favor the measure as long as people carrying the weapons are properly licensed and trained. She'd even consider carrying a weapon herself, she said.
"It's all a matter of the responsibility of the individual carrying the weapon," she said.
Jaren Glaser, a sophomore at WSU, said she would feel less safe if she knew others might be carrying concealed weapons.
"The people who are getting these licenses might not be stable," Glaser said. "I'm not sure I want them being able to hide them and me not know they have weapons on them."
In a situation where a gunman was shooting on the campus, others carrying guns might make the situation worse by trying to deal with the attacker rather than going to police, she said.
Tim Clark, a WSU senior, said he'd feel safe on campus because he knows he could handle a weapon responsibly. He isn't so sure about others.
"Personally, I would feel fine with it, but as far as the overall communal good, it's really murky," he said.
Cost of measures
The League of Kansas Municipalities and the Kansas Association of Counties both oppose the proposal. They estimate that installing a metal detector would cost between $2,500 and $5,000 per entrance — or about $50,000 per entrance annually when staff time is factored in.
Chris Presson, general manager of Intrust Bank Arena, said it's too early to know how the bill might affect the arena, which has posted "no guns" signs.
The level of security at an event is determined by the promoter's request and what arena staff thinks is needed, he said. "Every show is different."
Dale Goter, lobbyist for the city of Wichita, said City Hall has the needed security in place, but various city buildings don't have that same level of security.
The city opposes the proposal, contending such decisions are better left to individual cites, he said.
House Bill 2685 cleared the House, but its prospects don't look good in the Senate. Lawmakers have 15 days left in the session when they return April 28.
"We don't need any firearms in the Statehouse other than those carried by uniformed law enforcement," said Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, who chairs the Joint Committee on Kansas Security.
Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, said he opposed the original concealed-carry law and expanding it would be a mistake.
"I think it is a bad idea. What I am particularly concerned about is the notion that we should allow concealed weapons on university campuses," he said.
Stoneking said it might take a while to educate people and show them it is a good idea.
"We have begun an education process and we will bring it back next year," she said. "This is not going to be a done deal."