Kansas lawmakers debate end to campus carry law

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Prior to the hearing on SB53, members of the public wait in a packed room for the hearing to begin in the Topeka Statehouse on Jan. 26, 2017. (Regan Tokos | The Collegian)

Kansas lawmakers in the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee held a hearing Thursday morning on a bill that would permanently exempt state universities and other public buildings from the 2013 state concealed carry law scheduled to go into full effect on July 1.

Many state universities, including Kansas State, opted for the four-year exemption in 2013.

“If I had known that this law was going into effect before I came to Kansas State University, I would have stayed in Nebraska,” Regan Tokos, junior in regional and community planning, said at the hearing. “I don’t think adding guns to classroom settings or anywhere on campus would be a great idea because (college students) have the tendency to do whatever feels right at the moment.”

The contentious hearing had frequent interruptions from attendees on both sides of the issue, provoking numerous calls from the chair of the committee, Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, for order. The hearing was standing room only with overflow attendees listening in from the hallway.

Jessica Van Ranken, student body president and senior in political science, attended the hearing.

“Many people are very passionate about this piece of legislation,” Van Ranken said. “That emotional interest was demonstrated through testimony and the large number of individuals present.”

Van Ranken submitted written testimony, reading: “As a student leader at Kansas State who is passionate about creating a safe campus environment where student voices are heard and considered, I believe that the passage of SB 53 is the right choice for Kansas students.”

Senate Bill 53, introduced on Monday, would allow the governing body — or the chief administrative officer if no governing body exists — of each state college or university to exempt their institution from the state law by detailing their reasoning and a legal description of the exclusion.

If passed, the responsibility of notifying the Kansas attorney general to request exemption under the bill would likely go to either the Kansas Board of Regents or K-State’s president, Gen. Richard Myers.

Students and professors from universities across Kansas testified in front of the hearing in support of the bill, including Elizabeth Dodd, K-State professor of English.

“Of course accidents happen, and the more guns there are on a university campus, the greater likelihood there is for an accident,” Dodd said in a phone interview. “We are in uncharted waters, saying ‘you don’t need any training to bring a gun to campus.’”

“We think it will affect recruiting of students to our university and top-notch faculty,” Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, said, testifying in support of the proposal, according to Jonathan Shorman of the Topeka Capital-Journal.

The committee’s eventual decision on the bill will likely be close.

Sens. LaTurner, Bud Estes, R-Dodge City, Ty Masterson, R-Andover, Robert Olson, R-Olathe and Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, will likely vote against the bill. Sens. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, Bruce Givens, R-El Dorado, Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia and Lynn Rogers, D-Wichita, are likely to support it, according to correspondence with representatives and senators, past interviews and statements and voting records.

While a spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback said that the governor will continue to support Second Amendment rights while still giving “due consideration to any bill that reaches his desk,” his communications and policy strategist, Ian Fury, tweeted in opposition to the bill as the hearing unfolded.

“The #2A is a Constitutional protection for all Americans. Including college students,” Fury tweeted.

While outnumbered, opponents of the bill advocated forcefully for their interpretation of the constitutional rights of Americans and the state law itself.

“There’s a movement among the states going in this direction,” Travis Couture-Lovelady, state liaison for the National Rifle Association and former state representative, said at the hearing. “We think it’s the right thing to do.”

A majority of K-State faculty, staff and students are opposed to the concealed campus carry law as it currently stands, according to Fort Hays State University’s Docking Institute of Public Affairs’ surveys titled “Kansas Board of Regents Council of Faculty Senate Presidents Campus Employees’ Weapons Survey” and “Kansas Board of Regents Student Advisory Committee Student Gun Policy Opinion Survey.”

The hearing comes four days after a K-State student suffered an “accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound” in Goodnow Hall.

This story was updated to correct a misquote of Elizabeth Dodd.

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