TOPEKA (TNS) — The next governor of Kansas will likely have the final say on whether the state's gun laws change or remain the same.
In the wake of the latest mass school shooting, The Kansas City Star this week asked candidates for Kansas governor about their stances on gun control issues, including whether the age limit to buy an AR-15 should be raised.
The AR-15 is the weapon used in the Parkland, Fla., shooting, which killed 17 people.
Independent candidate Greg Orman did not respond to the questionnaire.
Gov. Jeff Colyer sent a brief statement but did not answer all the questions. Some candidates offered statements in response to questions, but did not say yes or no.
But most of the major candidates fully responded to the questionnaire.
Just how big a part guns will play as an election issue remains to be seen.
Kansas has many pro-gun voters, said Michael Smith, a political scientist at Emporia State University, and gun laws could be a key in the election.
"Like so many states, it becomes a suburban versus rural issue," Smith said.
The Star asked these questions:
• Should you have to be 21 or older to buy an AR-15 or other semi-automatic weapon?
Former nominee Jim Barnett was the only Republican candidate to support raising the age limit from 18.
"I think that the recent events in Florida demonstrate the increased risk in that age range for horrific consequences from owning a gun such as an AR-15," Barnett said.
The other Republicans — Gov. Jeff Colyer, former state lawmaker Mark Hutton, Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer — rejected the idea.
Colyer's response to the question was the only detailed comment he provided for this story.
"I think if you are old enough to put your life on the line serving your country in the military, then you are old enough to exercise your 2nd amendment right to own a firearm," Colyer said.
On the Democratic side, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, state Sen. Laura Kelly and House Minority Leader Jim Ward said they supported changing the age limit to 21.
Josh Svaty, the former state secretary of agriculture, said guns were not the major problem.
"The issue we should focus on first is not on weapons, but on banning 30 round clips of ammunition for all weapons," he said.
• Do you see an AR-15 as a legitimate hunting weapon, as the Florida House speaker does?
Among the Republicans, all but Barnett were steadfast in their support of the AR-15 as a weapon for hunting.
Kobach said the AR-15's "shorter profile and ease of adding components to the rail" make it a superior rifle for some types of hunting.
"Although I am an archery hunter for deer and other types of large game, I use an AR-style rifle for hunting coyotes (in Kansas) and feral hogs (in Texas)," Kobach said. "It has become the preferred type of rifle in the hunting world for pursuing predators and feral hogs."
None of the Democratic candidates saw the gun as a legitimate hunting weapon.
"It's not necessary to use it as a hunting (weapon)," Brewer said. "There are lots of other weapons. I'm a hunter myself, big game hunter, and if I can hunt things that I need and I don't have to have an AR-15, then certainly they can do the exact same thing."
Said Ward: "No self-respecting hunter needs a gun that fires 400 rounds per minute."
• Do you support President Donald Trump's proposal to give teachers bonuses for carrying guns?
When it came to Trump's push for teachers to receive a bonus if they are armed, only Kobach was solidly in support.
"When the government fails to stop a shooting before it happens, that is the last line of defense for our children," Kobach said. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
Both Selzer and Barnett answered with a definitive "no."
Hutton couched his answer.
"I don't think arming teachers is the answer but I do think they should have the right to carry unless a school meets security requirements to assure protection," he said.
Colyer did not answer the question, but said last week that Trump's proposal "may be (a) good solution."
The Democratic candidates panned the Trump proposal.
"We need to keep guns out of the classroom," Ward said. "No one should have a gun in a school. Even highly trained sharpshooters will miss their targets in high-stress active shooter situations. It's extremely irresponsible to place our children in the middle of the crossfire and hope for the best."
• Are there gun regulations you think should be added or improved?
Many of the Democrats expressed interest in expanding gun control measures. Brewer called for mandatory training, while Svaty said he supports universal background checks and banning 30-round ammunition clips and bump stocks.
Ward has made gun control a key part of his campaign for the party's August primary, singling out rival Kelly.
In an email blast earlier this week. Ward said Kelly "has been a staunch defender of the NRA and its agenda."
"Laura Kelly went from being the NRA queen to banning assault weapons," Ward said.
In 2015, Kelly was one of only two Democrats in the Kansas Senate to vote to allow people over the age of 21 to carry concealed firearms without a permit. Kelly, along with a crowd of Republican lawmakers, also was an original sponsor on the Senate bill.
In 2013, both Kelly and Ward voted in favor of a bill that later led to concealed handguns being allowed on college campuses.
But in her response to The Star, Kelly said that in 2016, she voted to ban guns on college campuses. That effort failed.
Kelly said lawmakers should ban campus carry this year. She also noted that In 2017, she voted to ban guns from mental health facilities, adult care homes and state- owned medical facilities. That measure became law.
"I think Rep. Ward's insistence that I cannot change my position is, it's the same rigid ideology that caused such devastation to our state when Sam Brownback signed those tax cuts and then when we immediately went into the tank, he just blinders on and would not deal with the issue," Kelly said Wednesday in an interview. "I'm different than that. I process new information and modify my stance accordingly."
Kelly's stances on gun issues are now more in line with those of her Democratic opponents.
"I support making it illegal for anyone convicted of a domestic violence offense to possess a gun," Kelly said. "I support banning bump stocks. I support background checks for all gun purchases, including gun shows."
Republicans, however, were less open to such changes.
Kobach brought up a Kansas law that he said was meant to allow trained and willing teachers to be armed but that is not working as intended.
"No teachers have yet been permitted by their school boards to be armed," Kobach said. "The law needs to be revised so that trained and willing teachers can obtain permission and begin protecting students."
Selzer called for better reporting when it comes to guns.
"We can and must improve the inter and intra agency reporting in the background check process in order to prevent mentally ill individuals and criminals from purchasing guns," he said. "We must demand that government agencies improve communication and and then act on tips they receive about threats in our communities. This could have prevented many of the shootings in recent years."
Barnett was the only Republican to push for so-called red flag legislation.
"If judges, police officers, school administrators, and teachers and parents are aware of an individual that is demonstrating risky behavior like was demonstrated in Parkland, Florida, they should have the ability to petition the court to keep that individual from purchasing and possessing guns," he said.
• Are there gun regulations you think should be dropped or loosened?
Democrats were hard pressed to find any regulations that they'd like to ease.
"We must move beyond the same partisan divides on this issue," Kelly said.
Kobach said he'd like to make it easier for gun owners to buy "sound-reducing suppressors," also known as silencers.
"They are very helpful in reducing damage to hearing that is caused by regular sport shooting," Kobach said. "They are already legal and widespread, but the federal requirements and the $200 tax currently make them difficult to obtain."
Selzer called for a greater focus on enforcing current laws.
"We aren't effectively managing the processes we have in place to reduce potential for gun violence," he said. "We should hold our government officials and bureaucrats accountable for fully implementing the laws already on the books."