How two gun rights movements collided in the Jayhawk State.
The movement to strip away restrictions inhibiting people from carrying guns in public places will soon realize almost all of its goals in Kansas.
Four years ago, the state legislature passed a law allowing concealed weapons in all public buildings. College campuses were given a lengthy extension to comply, but that clock runs out on July 1.
Two years ago, Kansas removed the requirement that anyone who carries a concealed handgun in the state obtain a permit, acquired by paying a licensing fee and completing an eight-hour training course.
The result of this equation doesn’t take college-level math to solve. Starting this summer, anybody 21 or over will be allowed to carry a concealed weapon on state college campuses — without a permit or any training. At least 10 other states require colleges to allow guns on campus, but none have also done away with the permitting requirement.
The situation in Kansas fuses two of the top legislative priorities for gun-rights advocates: Campus carry, which broke into the national newscycle last week because of a new law in Arkansas that will allow guns into college sports stadiums, and ‘Constitutional carry’, a push to roll back longstanding licensing, training, and registration requirements for carrying weapons in public.
Over the last seven years, the number of states that have dismantled their gun-permitting systems has climbed to 12, including, most recently, New Hampshire. The Republican-controlled Kansas legislature overwhelmingly supported the permitless-carry bill when it came up for a vote in 2015.
“People didn’t even feel like they could fight against it,” said Representative Stephanie Clayton, a Republican from Johnson County, a moderate district, and one of the only members of her caucus to vote against the bill. “It felt inevitable.”
The campus-carry law, approved in 2013, gave college campuses four years to comply. When it takes effect, state universities can still prohibit guns from buildings if they install metal detectors and security guards at entrances. But critics of the campus-carry legislation, including Clayton, say that doing so would be prohibitively expensive. The University of Kansas’ six campuses have more than 800 buildings combined.
“They couldn’t afford to comply with adequate security measures even if they wanted to,” she said.
Earlier this year, Clayton introduced a bill to make the college exemption permanent, but it still hasn’t received a vote on the House floor.
“The schools don’t want to fight for themselves; they’re worried they’ll be retaliated against in the appropriations process,” Clayton said. “And those concerns are valid. That kind of vindictive behavior in the appropriations process absolutely does occur.”
This week, faculty members representing all six campuses put out a statement condemning the law.
“The vast majority of faculty, as well as students and staff, believe ‘campus carry’ is a bad idea,” said Pam Keller, the Faculty Senate’s president. “It won’t make our campuses better or safe.”
The National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups disagree.
“Sticking your head in the sand and hoping guns won’t come in is not enough,” Travis Couture-Lovelady, an NRA lobbyist, told the Kansas City Starin February, referring to the supposed vulnerability of college campuses.
In other states, similar gun policies are also controversial. Last year, for example, when Texas implemented its campus-carry statute, there were massive student protests, and faculty from the University of Texas unsuccessfully sued to stop it from going into effect.
Around the same time, over the objections of law enforcement, the Missouri state legislature passed a permitless bill, which was vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon. Later, at the urging of the National Rifle Association, lawmakers overrode Nixon, enacting the legislation.
And in Arkansas, the state legislature is working furiously to revise a campus-carry law signed by the governor last week. In its current form, the law allows guns in college stadiums, a provision that has created an uproar. But the legislation does have some safeguards, such as requiring those who wish to carry on school grounds to be at least 25 years old, have a concealed-carry permit, and take an additional eight-hour training course.