TOPEKA — Gov. Jeff Colyer's recommendation to allow school teachers to carry firearms in schools coincided Friday with issuance of a national report awarding Kansas a failing grade for laws on gun safety.
Colyer, a Johnson County surgeon who assumed the governorship in January, said establishment of an initiative placing guns in the hands of qualified teachers was a viable option in the wake of mass shootings at schools.
“That is one thing people can do,” the Republican governor said. “There are a lot of things we can do to improve this, whether it is improving security at the schools (or) the architecture.”
Colyer said the state's delivery of mental health services ought to be a significant part of solutions for student safety.
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, of Washington, D.C., gave Kansas an “F” on its Annual Gun Law Scorecard, which assesses each state on the strength of its gun laws.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and school teacher for 43 years, said Kansas school districts ought to invest in fortifying buildings to deny access to intruders. He said handing firearms to teachers throughout the education system would be unwise.
“Schools are gun-free zones, and we don’t want to turn them into war zones,” Hensley said.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said expecting teachers to perform duties of a law enforcement officer during an emergency could put more people in danger.
“The truth of the matter is well-trained, experienced sharpshooters make mistakes in high-stress, active-shooter situations. To expect people who have been trained to educate children to be able to also step into a role as some sort of cop is unrealistic and is wrong,” Ward said.
The Giffords Law Center’s grade for Kansas reflected the state's implementation of a law allowing concealed carry of handguns inside university buildings and the passage of a law eliminating training, background checks and permit requirements for a person to carry concealed in the state.
In terms of a state-by-state ranking, the Giffords Law Center said Kansas had the 48th weakest gun laws because of the absence of universal background checks and lack of a statute preventing domestic abusers from buying or owning guns.
“Year after year, our research shows that states that get serious about passing stronger gun violence prevention laws have a much better chance of reducing the number of deaths linked to firearms,” said Robyn Thomas, the center's executive director.
The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee is scheduled Tuesday to consider House Bill 2145, which would prohibit possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a misdemeanor for domestic violence in the past five years.
On Feb. 22, the Kansas House canceled debate on a bill authorizing public school districts to offer a firearms course sanctioned by the National Rifle Association.
Colyer said he was aware of a need for state government to work collaboratively with local districts to formulate a comprehensive response to violence.
“The best solution in Atwood is a very different solution in Wichita,” the governor said.