Politics & Government

Kansas senator questions workplace gun restrictions after Hesston shooting

Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona
Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona File photo

In an e-mail to constituents, a member of the Kansas Senate blamed last week’s mass shooting in Hesston on a state law that allows businesses to restrict guns on their property.

Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, told constituents in an e-mail that he received an anonymous text message after the shooting at Hesston’s Excel plant, which left four people dead and 14 injured, telling him, “The blood of the Hesston victims is on your hands as much as the shooter. Gun rights, what about the right to life for the innocent victims? I just hope you someday feel the pain you have inflicted on others.”

Knox said he prayed for the victims and reflected on the text. In the end, he decided “that perhaps I do share some responsibility in this shooting, but not as the sender intended.”

Knox has been one of the Legislature’s most outspoken advocates for loosening the state’s gun laws. He was one of many lawmakers who last year championed legislation to remove the state’s training requirement for concealed carry. Last month he carried a bill, which passed the Senate, that would enable public employees to carry concealed weapons when they go off site as part of their job.

The state has made it legal to carry concealed weapons in public buildings but still allows private businesses to restrict weapons from their premises. Knox said this allows companies to “require defenselessness of their employees.”

Is the blood of the Hesston victims is on my hands, and those of the Kansas legislature, because we continue to allow private industry and public universities to enforce the defenselessness of their employees, and students?

Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, in e-mail to constituents

“Is the blood of the Hesston victims is on my hands, and those of the Kansas legislature, because we continue to allow private industry and public universities to enforce the defenselessness of their employees, and students?” Knox wrote, asking his constituents to send him their thoughts on the matter.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, a lawmaker who has repeatedly sparred with Knox on gun issues, was initially speechless when told of the suggestion in Knox’s e-mail. She said she would oppose any legislation that would force private property owners to allow guns on their property.

“I just think he is crossing the line,” she said. “It is unfortunate. It is so sad that the situation has occurred ... I don’t think we need to keep capitalizing on other people’s tragedies.”

Knox said in a phone conversation that he has no intention to undo the exemption for private industry, which he said has private property rights, but that he was trying to make a point about how these restrictions endanger employees’ safety.

“It’s a sad world, but the point is, it’s a gun that stops these sort of things,” Knox said. “And the closer that gun is, the quicker that happens, the better off people are.”

An employee of the Excel plant told The Eagle that the company told employees to leave guns locked in their cars.

Knox called Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder a hero for killing the shooter, but noted that Schroeder was near the plant when the shooting occurred.

“He was very close by, which was a very good thing. That’s the whole point, time is of the essence. When you’ve got a guy with an AK-47 shooting people, it’s seconds,” Knox said. “And so it actually worked out a whole lot better than it might have.”

College campuses will be required to open up their campuses to concealed weapons in July of 2017 under Kansas law. Knox voted in favor of an unsuccessful amendment last month to push that deadline up to July of this year.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3

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