Politics & Government

Senators fight over guns at hospitals, colleges before returning bill to committee

The Wichita Eagle

Kansas will soon allow guns in public hospitals, in state-run psychiatric hospitals and on public college campuses unless the Legislature changes the law – an outcome that is far from certain.

A Senate debate over a bill that would have put some restrictions in place ended without a vote on Tuesday. Senators chose instead to send the bill back to committee in the hope that it can reach a compromise.

The debate came as some lawmakers push for changes before July 1. After that date, public hospitals, state psychiatric hospitals and college campuses will no longer be able to prohibit concealed weapons.

Before voting to send House Bill 2278 back to the Senate’s budget committee, senators had amended the bill to allow individuals with concealed carry permits to take weapons into hospitals, while barring patients at psychiatric facilities from having them.

Unless the law changes, the state’s psychiatric hospitals will have to allow all individuals to have guns beginning this summer unless lawmakers approve more than $12 million for security measures.

At the time they voted to return the bill to committee, senators were debating an amendment that would have allowed Wichita State University, the University of Kansas and Kansas State University to continue prohibiting guns after July 1.

Senators said negotiations were continuing over the bill. Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, who chairs the committee, said discussions were happening off the Senate floor even as the debate proceeded.

The committee may meet Wednesday if an agreement is reached, she said.

“We have a great deal of people that define the Second Amendment as having the ability to take guns anywhere, even in our mental health hospitals,” McGinn said when asked what the heart of the disagreement was.

Patients are sometimes unstable and can pose a danger to others, she said. The debate comes down to whether the Second Amendment is “totally unlimited or is it limited,” McGinn said.

Gun rights advocates pushed back against the bill before Tuesday’s debate. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said on Twitter that senators were working to undermine progress on Second Amendment issues over the past decade. He called it outrageous.

“Senators want to give additional hospitals, agencies, and universities new blanket exemptions from their duty to defend you,” Kobach wrote. “Entities have a duty to defend you when they prevent you from defending yourself. A sticker on the door protects no one.”

The National Rifle Association issued an action call, urging members to contact their lawmakers. The bill is a solution in search of a problem, the organization said, adding that it places an arbitrary boundary on the right to self-defense.

“This is going to do nothing but take away the right of law-abiding citizens protecting themselves, while the criminal will be able to carry and shoot someone. They’re not going to follow the law, they’re not going to follow a sign,” Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said of exempting college campuses.

Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, whose district includes K-State, said rights come with responsibilities.

“Signs … do set parameters. If you violate those signs, there are consequences. And more than that, it sets a norm of what expected behaviors are,” Hawk said.

Although the debate on HB 2278 turned into a wide-ranging fight over gun rights, the bill was originally intended only to exempt public and mental health hospitals from the concealed carry requirement.

Under current law, the hospitals must either allow concealed weapons beginning July 1 or put armed guards and metal detectors in place. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which oversees the mental health hospitals, has pegged the cost of guards, detectors and other equipment at those facilities at more than $12 million.

Lawmakers say they are frustrated because Gov. Sam Brownback did not seek funding for the security until last month. Even if the Legislature approved the funding now, it would be practically impossible to hire and train the guards necessary by July 1.

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman