A preview of the upcoming Democratic gubernatorial forum in Topeka percolated through Kansas’ political ether Tuesday as candidate Jim Ward denounced rival Laura Kelly for attempting to conceal her support for the National Rifle Association’s agenda.
Ward, a Wichita lawmaker who serves as Democratic leader in the Kansas House, said Kelly strayed from the majority of Democrats by endorsing legislation eliminating background checks and safety training for people seeking to carry a concealed firearm.
“For her entire political life, 13 years as state senator, Laura Kelly has been a staunch defender of the NRA and its agenda,” Ward said. “We need a leader who has a proven record of fighting for gun safety measures, not one who has resisted them.”
Kelly, a state senator from Topeka, said Ward ought to check the facts before shooting from the hip about her voting record.
She said she stood up to the NRA in 2016 by voting to ban concealed guns from college and university campuses. In 2017, she voted for a bill prohibiting possession of firearms inside adult care homes, mental health facilities and state hospitals.
“Clearly,” she said, “we can respect and defend the rights of Kansas gun owners, while also taking effective steps to keep our children and families safe.”
On Thursday, the Kansas House's Republican leadership canceled consideration of a bill authorizing public school districts to host instruction in gun safety from kindergarten through high school. The bill drew objections from Republicans and Democrats because it would give preference to NRA-sanctioned Eddie Eagle GunSafe curriculum. Others questioned the timing of a vote two weeks after 17 people were massacred at a Florida high school by a former student firing an AR-15 assault weapon.
Ward and Kelly will have an opportunity Saturday for dialogue on guns with other declared Democratic Party candidates for Kansas governor. The party’s Washington Days meeting includes a ticketed forum with candidates from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Ramada Topeka Downtown Hotel and Convention Center in Topeka.
Ward’s assault on Kelly followed a call by Kelly for aggressive steps to keep guns out of the hands of people with evil intent and affirmation of her support of the constitutional right to bear arms. She vowed to vote in 2018 for a bill making gun possession illegal for anyone convicted of domestic violence.
“In recent years, the issue has changed,” Kelly said. “It’s not only a discussion of conceal carry and hunting rights. It is about school shootings and assault weapons.”
She expressed support for background checks on all gun sales, for a ban on bump stocks used to convert semi-automatic weapons into automatics, and for limiting access to assault weapons designed for military combat.
Ward said attempts by Kelly to take positions contrary to her prior defense of the NRA reflected her political expedience. In 2015, he said, Kelly voted to drop background checks and safety training related to carrying concealed weapons in Kansas.
“She has more than once opposed common sense gun safety legislation in Kansas,” Ward said. “Now candidate for governor Kelly is trying to hide her record of opposition to gun safety. Common sense gun laws are just that — common sense – and it should not take a run for governor to use common sense.”
Ward said he would seek reversal of a state law requiring college and university campuses to allow concealed firearms inside buildings unless the structures were protected by metal detectors and security guards.
He said the necessity of effective gun-safety laws hadn’t changed, despite Kelly’s claim the issue was transformed by recent events.
“Maybe Kelly didn’t notice the tragedy at Sandy Hook in 2012, the attack on a Charleston church in 2015, or the massacre in Las Vegas last year, but I did. The only thing that has changed is Laura Kelly’s ambition,” he said.