TOPEKA — The Kansas affiliate of the National Rifle Association shot blanks at the final political shootout on concealed firearms in the 2018 legislative session.
Lobbyists with the Kansas State Rifle Association worked to pressure Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a Johnson County Republican, to schedule a Senate vote to approve House Bill 2042. There were dire email alerts from the organization in weeks leading up to the Friday close of the session asserting some legislators would "love nothing more to see the clock run out on pro-gun legislation."
Indeed, that's what happened to a bill that would have required Kansas to recognize out-of-state licenses and permits for concealed handguns. The bill also contained Wichita Rep. Brenda Landwehr's amendment to lower the concealed-carry permit age in Kansas from 21 to 18, which would have application to buildings on state universities.
Jo Ella Hoye, a volunteer with the Kansas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said state legislators understood the need retain sensible gun law on the books and to enact bipartisan legislation closing gaps allowing domestic abusers easy access to guns.
Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer in April signed House Bill 2145 to make it a criminal offense in Kansas for individuals convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense within the previous five years to possess a firearm.
“Our elected officials recognize that Kansans want common-sense gun laws," she said. "Lawmakers are listening to our law enforcement leaders, to Kansans affected by gun violence and to moms like me who expect them to prioritize public safety. "
House and Senate Democrats said votes didn't exist to pass House Bill 2042 after a flurry of mass shootings in the United States, including the Parkland, Fla., school massacre. Anti-gun violence protests had elevated conversations nationally about whether limits ought to be placed on firearm sales and possession despite constitutional protections of the Second Amendment.
"There is a problem of sensitivity," said Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat. "I just don't believe they've had the votes."
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita, had a similar view on the rare failure of the gun lobby to secure the minimum 63 votes in the House and 21 votes in the Senate. Republicans hold 80 of 125 seats in the House and 30 of 40 seats in the Senate.
"I think they realized the gun bill is incredibly irresponsible and politically toxic," Ward said.
Ward said reducing the conceal-carry license age to 18 would have meant public university buildings would have been opened to individuals under 21 carrying hidden, loaded handguns. In addition, the bill would have required Kansas to accept handgun licenses from other states, including those with weaker standards than exist in Kansas.
Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Derby Republican and supporter of the House bill, said the issue boiled down to opposition among legislative leaders rather than rank-and-file members of the Legislature.
"It's up to the Senate leadership," he said. "I think the 'votes aren't there' is an excuse."
He said the reciprocal element of the bill endorsed by Attorney General Derek Schmidt hadn't drawn near the level of consternation as the piece lowering the concealed firearm license age to 18.