TOPEKA — The Kansas House waded into the controversial arena of concealed firearms Thursday to advance a bill establishing a reciprocity system with other states and lowering to 18 the age licensed individuals would be eligible to carry hidden firearms in Kansas.
The Republican-controlled House also adopted an amendment limiting conceal carry on public university and community college campuses to individuals who undergo training and background checks to earn a state license.
“If I were king, fortunate for you I am not, this is what I would do,” said Rep. Clay Aurand, a Belleville Republican who viewed the higher education amendment as a middle-ground gesture certain to raise ire of the National Rifle Association. “You don’t need to maintain an ‘A’ rating with anyone.”
The House voted to advance House Bill 2042 on a vote of 85-35, setting up final action as early as Friday. The measure would need to survive Senate action and win approval of Gov. Jeff Colyer.
If the House bill became law, Kansans older than 21 without a state license and out-of-staters with a state license could carry concealed except on Kansas campuses that banned the practice or in private businesses and K-12 schools capable of forbidding access to people hiding guns. Individuals from 18 to 21 could, with a permit, be able to carry concealed for the first time in Kansas.
The House rejected an amendment from Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, allowing public university and community college administrators across the state to impose an absolute ban on concealed weapons in campus buildings.
“Why carve out anyone?” said Rep. Ken Corbet, a Topeka Republican who operates a hunting business. “Gun-free zones make it easier for people to do evil things. Victims that shoot back live longer.”
“I don’t think there is a compromise to a constitutional right,” added Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican who believes unarmed women to be especially vulnerable. “For every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 incidents of rape per school year.”
Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, said the save-all-the-women argument spouted by Whitmer didn’t stand up to reality.
“This is a false argument I’ve heard since the beginning of concealed carry on this floor, that women need to have guns to be protected from men,” Carlin said.
The core of the House bill addressed reciprocity with other states and was introduced at the request of Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
In 2015, former Gov. Sam Brownback signed a “constitutional carry” bill enabling Kansans to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training. At that time, House and Senate members supportive of the bill mocked the state’s system that had made those wishing to carry concealed to participate in a training class, exhibit proficiency with a firearm and register with the attorney general’s office.
In the latest incarnation of debate on concealed carry, the House blocked with a procedural maneuver the amendment from Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka, that would make it illegal to use a “bump stock” in Kansas. The device relied upon by the Las Vegas mass murderer enables a person to fire semi-automatic weapons at a rate similar to fully automatic firearms.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, gained approval of the amendment lowering the conceal-carry age minimum in Kansas from 21 to 18. Kansans 18, 19 and 20 years of age would have to complete the training course, a background check and get a state license.
“I believe that 18-year-olds especially because they have the ability to fight for this country … should have that same right and ability to do that as everyday citizens,” Landwehr said.
Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said the military argument was skewed because non-security U.S. Army personnel stationed at Fort Riley and similar installations were routinely prohibited from carrying weapons on base.
“While these serving military personnel between 18 and 21 and even older typically do not carry weapons on base, what you advocate is that they be able to carry weapons in our universities and colleges that they can’t carry on base?” Carmichael said.