Politics & Government

Kansas Senate panel rejects bill to keep guns off campuses

Photo illustration
Photo illustration File photo

A bill to permanently exempt public colleges and medical centers from a requirement to allow concealed guns on their premises was rejected by a Kansas Senate committee on Tuesday.

The vote is a setback for activists who had hoped to prevent firearms on college campuses.

“We are disappointed that they sided with the extremist gun lobby instead of the students, faculty and concerned parents who testified just days ago,” said Jo Ella Hoye, spokeswoman for the Kansas chapter of Moms Demand Action, a group that pushes for stricter gun laws.

“It’s a setback,” said Hoye, a Lenexa resident. “ ‘Moms’ will be back tomorrow, and we still have hope that this fight is not over.”

An identical bill is scheduled for a hearing in a House committee on Wednesday.

Kansas passed a law in 2013 requiring public buildings to allow firearms. College campuses and public medical centers were granted a four-year exemption that will end in July.

Senate Bill 53 would have permanently extended that exemption. The bill failed to advance out of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee on a voice vote.

Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, who chairs the committee, said he opposes extending the exemption for colleges.

“I’m comfortable with the vote that I made in 2013. I think it allowed enough time for folks to make accommodations,” LaTurner said.

When the 2013 law was passed, a person could carry a concealed weapon only if he or she had gone through training and background checks to obtain a permit. In 2015, Kansas eliminated those requirements and enabled any person to carry a concealed gun regardless of training.

LaTurner said the 2015 change does not factor into his decision-making.

Two Wichita Democrats, Sens. Lynn Rogers and Oletha Faust-Goudeau, were the only two committee members present who supported sending the bill to the full Senate.

“We’re trying to figure out what we want to do at this point,” Rogers said after the meeting.

Another member of the committee, Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, said he would have supported the measure but was attending a Senate leadership meeting on the budget.

“It’s very disappointing,” Longbine said. “I think that’s something that’s big enough that it should have gone to the entire floor and the Senate should have had a full debate on it.”

The Kansas State Rifle Association said in a statement that it “is thrilled to see Kansas Senators fighting to defend self-defense rights of responsible adults on our campuses.”

“Kansans overwhelmingly support the 2nd Amendment, as written, and it’s exciting to see that position defended by the Kansas Senate today,” the statement said.

There are a few options for reviving the bill on the Senate side. The bill can be pulled out of committee if 24 lawmakers vote in favor of doing so. It would still require 27 votes in the 40-member chamber to advance the bill for a debate, under the Senate rules.

A lawmaker on the committee could also make a motion to reconsider the bill for a second committee vote. LaTurner said he would have the power as chairman to determine whether such a motion would be in order.

“It’s not dead for the session,” Longbine said. “I’m sure there will be other bites at the apple.”

Kansas Democratic Party Chairman Lee Kinch and Republican Chairman Kelly Arnold square off over campus concealed carry, coming to Kansas universities next year. (April 14, 2016)

Students and others held a silent protest Thursday at the Kansas Capitol against a law that will allow concealed carrying of firearms at state universities and colleges beginning next year. (March 24, 2016 / Dion Lefler)

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3