UPDATE: Kansas House rejects campus carry debate

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UPDATE: An anticipated debate on campus carry was sidestepped Tuesday morning, with the motion to discuss and possibly amend the concealed carry law falling with a vote of 81-44.

Fifteen lawmakers who previously indicated their opposition to concealed carry on college campuses and in public hospitals through correspondence or past votes voted against the motion for debate. Moreover, five lawmakers who likely support the concealed carry law voted in favor of the motion, which possibly could have led to debate on amendments contrary to the mission of campus carry opponents.

Reps. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, Shelee Brim, R-Shawnee, and Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, were the only Republicans to vote to debate. The failure of the motion might signal the limits of the Democratic and moderate Republican coalition that has passed bills to expand Medicaid, restore due process rights to Kansas teachers and rolling back portions of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax plan.

Lawmakers in the Kansas House are expected to vote to allow debate on legislation related to firearms, an opportunity for lawmakers who have fallen short several times in committee votes to change the state law allowing concealed carry on state college and university campuses after July 1.

House Minority Leader Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, moved Monday to have the House consider debate on the bill, which will require a majority vote to proceed.

“If people who are here vote the way they campaigned six months ago, it looks good,” Ward said. “If they vote based on what someone tells them, then anything’s possible. I think this may be a trigger to force a debate on gun safety.”

Ward said that House leadership, including conservative Republican Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, may obstruct any debate on the issue.

House Bill 2042, which passed the House Federal and State Affairs Committee on March 16, amends the 2013 Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act to require the recognition of valid concealed carry licenses and permits issued out-of-state for non-Kansans. Current law prohibits any firearm restrictions in public buildings or areas.

Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, D-Prairie Village, mentioned his background as a former Naval weapons officer and a gun owner in a phone interview Monday.

“I think the gun laws in this state are pretty much insane,” Stogsdill said. “I think it sends a terrible message to our children that, you know, you’re not safe any place, not even on campus.”

The cautious expectations for a possible floor debate reflects the tactical adjustments made among Democrats and moderate Republicans in the House opposing the law looking to receive better reception from the entire chamber after several failed committee votes.

Rep. Brett Parker, D-Overland Park, said the concerns he has heard from Kansans that will be affected by the policy, such as university faculty and staff threatening to leave if the law takes effect as scheduled, have encouraged him to push for the law’s repeal.

“I’ve heard people at the universities saying that they’ll have a hard time recruiting the staff from everything from professors down to residence hall directors,” Parker said. “And then I heard from a lot of families when I was knocking on doors that they’ll look very seriously at sending their kids to school out-of-state, even if it costs more, because they don’t want them to attend campuses that, you know, a 21-year-old without training or a permit can be concealed carrying on.”

The current concealed carry law is likely supported by about 61 lawmakers and opposed by 49 representatives in the House, according to correspondence with representatives, past interviews, campaign positions and voting records. Short of the needed 63-vote majority, the fate of any concealed carry bill in the House will likely fall to a group of around 15 lawmakers who are either undecided on the issue or have abstained from publicly stating their stance.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, said in a phone interview Monday that she is readying three amendments exempting university campuses from the law, with options such as a permanent exemption and a two-year extension to the expiring exemption.

Lawmakers on the other side of the issue will also have the same chance to take the law in a direction that is more restrictive for universities, Clayton warned.

“Things could get a lot better, but they could also get a lot worse,” Clayton said. “It is going to be a nail-biter.”

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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.