Opponents of allowing guns on Kansas campuses are not giving up their fight despite a setback in a state Senate committee this week. The push to change the policy continued in a House committee Wednesday.
State law says colleges and universities must allow concealed weapons on campus starting this summer. Firearms could be barred only in buildings that have security measures in place, such as metal detectors and security staff. Bills in the House and Senate would permanently exempt higher education institutions from the law, allowing them to continue banning guns.
A Senate committee voted not to advance the bill to the full chamber on Tuesday. Just a day later, a House committee held a public hearing on a similar measure.
The group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is part of the effort. Jo Ella Hoye says she's concerned about mixing guns with alcohol and the mental stresses found on college campuses.
“Moms Demand Action is here. We’re not giving up. We want sensible gun legislation,” says Hoye. “We want people to be able to own guns, but we also want colleges and municipalities to be able to say there are sensible areas where guns should not be.”
Rabbi Moti Rieber, with the group Kansas Interfaith Action, believes House passage could boost the bill’s chances in the Senate.
“We think that if the bill gets to the House floor, it’ll pass,” says Rieber. “It would give the bill momentum to come out of the House with a strong majority, which I think we would get.”
University of Kansas Professor Ron Barrett told legislators that guns should not be allowed on campus. He says many university labs contain chemicals that could cause an explosion, or worse, if they’re struck by an errant bullet.
“Some universities even store more dangerous materials, like tens of thousands of gallons of poisonous, carcinogenic flammables right in the middle of campus,” says Barett.
For others, like Emporia State University student Megan Hilbish, the issue comes down to constitutional 2nd Amendment rights, which they say don’t end on a college campus.
“We want to be able to conceal carry on college campuses to be able to defend ourselves and feel more safe and secure, especially with the inadequate security measures that colleges have now,” says Hilbish.
Supporters of the current law are also getting active this session.
“We will fight this until the last minute, until the last vote is counted,” says Kathleen Wade, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association.
The overflow hearing Wednesday appeared to be dominated by supporters of changing the law, but Wade says that doesn’t tell the whole story. She says they have supporters who aren’t able to attend hearings, but may be contacting their lawmakers by phone or email.
"The legislators that I've talked to have said that some of them have received up to one hundred to one in our favor," says Wade.
Travis Couture-Lovelady, a former Republican Kansas lawmaker who now works for the NRA, says they expect the discussion could continue even if the bills don't make it out of committee. He says there could be amendments on the topic proposed during floor debates.
“We’re OK with discussion. We feel confident in our arguments and confident in the people of Kansas, that this is the direction they want to go,” says Couture-Lovelady.
The chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, Republican John Barker, says he wants to give members of the committee time to consider all the comments before taking any action on the bill.
Stephen Koranda has more: