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Kansas Lawmakers Will Try Again to Amend Concealed Weapons Law

A door at the University of Kansas with a sign barring guns. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

Kansas lawmakers will try again to exempt some facilities from the state’s concealed carry law. The Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would allow public health care facilities to ban concealed guns. State law states most public places must allow concealed firearms by this summer or install security at entrances to keep weapons out.

Some buildings, including universities and public health care facilities, have an exemption from the law that expires this summer. That means they'll either have to allow guns or install more security.

This bill is very similar to one that was debated and amended last week, then sent back to committee for more work. This time around, some lawmakers have agreed not to offer amendments to the bill to increase its chances of becoming law. However, the plan still faces a hurdle because the powerful National Rifle Association is not on board.

Republican Senator Carolyn McGinn, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, hopes that leaving the bill focused only on health care facilities and state mental hospitals will reduce opposition. She said it would be expensive to install security at large medical facilities.

“This is specifically tied to saving the state dollars on security at campuses that do not have just one entrance. They have multiple entrances,” said McGinn.

As written, the plan would allow guns to be banned at state mental hospitals, publicly owned medical facilities and the University of Kansas Health System.

Democratic Senator Tom Hawk would like to exempt colleges and universities from the concealed weapons law, but he’s agreed not to propose that if other people also hold off on amendments.

“I’m willing to play nice with my colleagues to get this bill through,” said Hawk. “As clear as it is to nearly everybody that having guns in a mental hospital is crazy, I think having guns on a college campus is crazy.”

The concern, for lawmakers like Democratic Senator Laura Kelly, is that expanding the bill to include college campuses could mean the plan fails or gets vetoed by Governor Sam Brownback.

“This is the most we can get,” said Kelly. “I’m not interested in having something else go down and take the hospital exemption with it.”

Kelly hopes there will be more efforts to exempt college campuses from the law, but suspects that won’t happen this year.

Although the bill is being pushed as an agreement that could become law, the powerful National Rifle Association is not on board. Former Republican House member Travis Couture-Lovelady is now a lobbyist for the NRA, and he’s had a hand in efforts to find a compromise. He said the organization would agree to banning guns in select areas of the state’s mental hospitals and KU health facilities.

He said they oppose the plan that advanced out of committee because it allows too many buildings to block people from carrying guns for self-defense.

“If you’re going to restrict law-abiding citizens’ ability to defend themselves in that building, you should provide the security to show that nobody in that building is carrying,” said Couture-Lovelady.

Couture-Lovelady said simply banning guns in the health care facilities won’t stop people who are intent on violating the rule.

“We believe that just putting a sticker on the door and hoping folks don’t carry in there isn’t enough. You need some kind of security,” said Couture-Lovelady.

The full Kansas Senate could take up the firearms proposal in the coming days.

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