Campus carry opponents shift strategy amid regular, unsuccessful House hearings

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Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Kansas House of Representatives are redirecting their efforts to prevent the concealed carry of handguns on state university campuses. The focus is on amending bills related to the law that reach the chamber floor, where they hope the proposals that have failed in committees receive a more receptive audience.

Opponents of campus concealed carry may get their chance when the House Federal and State Affairs Committee revives House Bill 2150 early next week. The bill, which the committee deadlocked on in February and would have cemented the University of Kansas Medical Center’s concealed carry exemption, might be brought back in some form to a committee vote, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, said in a phone interview Thursday.

“There’s at least an indication that the chair has struck some kind of deal to possibly allow a bill like (House Bill 2150) out of committee, and thus onto the floor,” Clayton said. “I think an amendment to essentially insert the contents of House Bill 2074, which indefinitely delays campus carry … would be the amendment that we’d want.”

Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, the chair of the committee who abstained from casting the tie-breaking vote, said that any of the bills related to campus carry that were heard and previously voted on could be revisited.

“I always want a compromise,” Barker said. “If we’re going to do this, we need a comprehensive bill … that addresses all the issues. Why pass a bill that doesn’t go anywhere?”

Proposed amendments to the 2013 Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act, which will cancel Kansas college and university prohibitions on the concealed carry of handguns on July 1, have led to a string of clashes between lawmakers on both sides this year.

Moriah Day, chair of the Kansas State Rifle Association, and Travis Couture-Lovelady, lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, advocated for a proposal at a Thursday House Federal and State Affairs Committee hearing that would restrict the Kansas Board of Regents from enacting weapon policies.

“We have a bigger objection to the specific policies that some of these universities are putting in place,” Day said, using the University of Kansas’ requirement that concealed handguns always be on the owner’s body and K-State’s policy barring the carrying of loaded handguns as examples.
Couture-Lovelady told the committee that K-State’s weapons policy is less “problematic” than the policy at KU.

“It’s hard to take them at their word when they say they’re just trying to put common sense, reasonable regulations on this when we’ve been up here a number of times this year trying to completely get rid of guns on campus completely,” Couture-Lovelady said.

“Our six universities are very different, and one size does not fit all,” Regents chair Zoe Newton said at the hearing. “Our belief is that democracy is best when it emanates as close to the people it’s governing as possible.”

One of the concerns Newton said she had about the bill is that all of the state universities and colleges have already mailed student housing contracts for the fall 2017 semester. Students receiving the contracts will receive agreements detailing each of the institutions’ weapons policies, Newton said, and passing the bill into law would change the terms that many students will sign.

Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, said to the committee Thursday that the bill is another attempt by the Legislature to “force guns into every nook and cranny of life.”

The likelihood of a veto from Gov. Sam Brownback, who enacted the campus carry law in 2013 and signaled his continued support in December, might be the overriding problem lawmakers against the policy face. Getting an amended House bill through the more conservative Kansas Senate, however, will be those lawmakers’ more immediate hurdle.

“I believe that we probably could get some sort of delay,” Rieber said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I don’t want to put that out there too strongly because that’s not what we want. What we want is a permanent exemption.”

K-State is not planning on implementing the temporary “adequate security measures” required for restricting concealed carry, as the endeavor would be too costly for a university that has been dealt regular cuts to state funding. Kansas gun owners will not need to obtain licenses or register with universities to conceal carry on campuses.

The Federal and State Affairs Committee’s next meeting is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. on Monday.

“There are some lawmakers that were on the fence that were swayed by testimony, particularly from students.” Clayton said. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned up here, (it’s that) a law’s a very temporary concept.”

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Contributing writer for the Collegian. I’m a senior studying journalism and mass communications and working on minors in political science and music. I also manage digital operations as a communications fellow with the Kansas Democratic Party; I do not report on or write about anything political unless it shows up in the opinion section.