Politics & Government

Guns on Kansas college campuses not likely to end anytime soon

Photo illustration
Photo illustration File/The Wichita Eagle

Students at Wichita State University and other public colleges have been able to carry concealed weapons for half a year now.

Don’t expect that to change soon.

Kansas law began allowing concealed weapons on July 1, 2017. In the run-up, lawmakers opposed to the law tried unsuccessfully to postpone or eliminate the statute. Opponents packed hearings and touted surveys they said show university students and faculty on their side.

The Legislature reconvened this week for its 2018 session, but there’s less talk about repeal this time around.

And students are talking about the issue less, too.

“I think over the summer we heard a lot about it. We haven’t heard a lot publicly about campus carry since it’s gone into effect,” said Paige Hungate, WSU student body president.

“I haven’t seen a lot about it on posts on social media but we sent out a survey back in November … and the overwhelming concern with campus was campus carry.”

Proponents of allowing concealed weapons on campus contend that repealing the law becomes less likely as time goes on. Students and faculty are growing accustomed to campus carry, they say.

Moriah Day, chairman of the Kansas State Rifle Association PAC, said the environment in the Legislature surrounding the issue is very different than last year. And, he said, the reaction mirrors what happened when previous gun laws were put into effect.

“The narrative today is very similar to what happened right after constitutional carry passed, right after conceal carry originally passed in the state,” Day said. “There were a lot of people very afraid that something major would happen and then it goes into effect, nothing happens, everyone gets a sense of peace that it’s actually alright.”

While Kansas campuses have not seen a major gun-related incident since campus carry began, some issues have arisen. A loaded handgun was found in a restroom on the University of Kansas’s Lawrence campus in September, though no one was hurt.

“I don’t think that’s good policymaking for us to wait until something terrible happens and then decide, ‘oh, we need to move forward on this,’” Hungate said.

Still, Hungate said she’s unsure of action in the Legislature this year.

Lawmakers are in an election year. Their attention also is being dominated by how to fund schools after the Kansas Supreme Court struck down the current system this fall.

And even if the Legislature passed a bill, Gov. Sam Brownback (and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, for that matter) have given no indication that they would allow a repeal to become law.

Sen. John Skubal, an Overland Park Republican who was director of campus services at Johnson County Community College for 24 years, opposes campus carry. He said lawmakers “got some more hurdles to get over and it will take use a while to do that.”

Other gun legislation also faces an uphill battle. Bills have been introduced to both make leaving a gun unattended a crime (like what happened at KU this fall) and banning bump stocks, which causes semi-automatic weapons to fire like automatic weapons. The gunman in the October massacre in Las Vegas used the device.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat whose district includes WSU, said she supports criminalizing leaving a gun unattended.

“You need to be responsible,” said Faust-Goudeau, who has a child attending WSU.

House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, told The Lawrence Journal-World that he thinks it’s unlikely that gun legislation will receive serious consideration this year.

Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, chairs the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, where gun legislation would likely be considered. He told The Eagle he doesn’t expect action on campus carry.

“If it does, it will surprise me. But it could,” Barker said.

Polling shows that, as of 2015, most Kansas university students opposed campus carry. A 2015 survey conducted for the Kansas Board of Regents found that 55 percent of students wanted the law changed to not allow guns on campus, while 31 percent wanted to keep it in place.

Support for campus carry was higher at Fort Hays State University and Pittsburg State University than other institutions. That’s led some opponents of campus carry to propose that universities be allowed to decide whether to allow guns.

“What goes on at the campus at K-State, Gen. (Richard) Myers knows more about that than I do,” Skubal said, referring to the university president.

Hungate said she also supports allowing each institution to decide on campus carry.

But the debate over whether to ban campus carry outright or allow individual institutions to decide will come later. First, opponents must convince lawmakers to act.

“It’s still an important issue to people, even if they’re not talking about it all the time,” Hungate said.

Rep. Leo Delperdang, R-Wichita, said his oldest child attended WSU. His youngest is there now.

Asked where he stood on campus carry, he turned the question back around.

“I guess I’m going to throw it back to you,” Delperdang said. “Since it went into effect in July, how many people have been killed?”

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman