TOPEKA — Prominent Kansas Republicans and gun-rights lobbyists rallied Friday at the Kansas Statehouse to offer a rebuttal to demands for firearms restrictions in wake of U.S. school shootings and to express support for bills in the Legislature lowering the concealed-carry age limit and making it easier to arm classroom teachers.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach, top GOP leaders of the House and Senate and an official with the National Rifle Association urged about 200 people to raise their voices in defense of the constitutional right to bear arms. The event coincided with the anniversary of the 1999 slaying of 13 students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and protests inspired by the Feb. 14 mass school shooting in which 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Rebecca Schmoe, representing 1 Million Moms Against Gun Control, said time had come for a point-blank response to the recently energized proponents of gun control.
"We're sick and tired of the relentless attack on our Second Amendment protected rights," she said. "The anti-freedom squeaky wheels ... along with some politicians, mainstream media, Hollywood elites, corporations, billionaires, their demanding mommies and their marching teens and all their ilk have been getting a lot of attention lately."
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said the ability of society's vulnerable members to defend themselves in a wicked world shouldn't be compromised because criminals break the law.
"It is the vulnerable law-abiding citizens who most need protection of their Second Amendment rights. Women. People with disabilities. The elderly. We need to protect law-abiding citizens, because it's the thugs, it's the perverts, it's the thieves who are not law abiding who are carrying guns," she said.
On the perimeter of the crowd at the Capitol, about three dozen students from Topeka High School directed loud chants at the firearm enthusiasts.
"I strongly believe the people at this rally are on the wrong side of history," said Topeka High student Abbie Cruse. "It hurts to see how ignorant people are of the problem."
Her classmate David Escobar said arming teachers and staff in schools wouldn't stop the bloodshed.
"How many lives is it going to cost before we see change?" he said.
Kobach, who expressed pride in daily carrying of a concealed gun, said students who skipped classes to call on government to pass new gun restrictions should have stayed in school and devoted their time to brushing up on the U.S. Constitution.
"When you're 16 years old, you pretty much know everything you need to know," he said sarcastically. "These 16-year-olds don't speak for me and they sure as heck don't speak for the people of Kansas. Instead of walking out of class, why don't you stay in class and spend that half-hour studying the Second Amendment. You might learn something."
Kobach said liberal students and their benefactors were engaged in organized attacks on the nation's gun culture. He said leftists preferred to rely on "Big Brother" for protection, but federal and local law enforcement failed to meet the threat of the Parkland shooter. When the government falls short, he said, individuals have an obligation to respond. Part of that answer should include arming teachers, Kobach said.
Travis Couture-Lovelady, Kansas director of the NRA, said the nation should work to improve mental health systems rather than rely on gun-free zones and bans on specific firearms, such as the AR-15.
He endorsed pending legislation in Kansas to reduce to 18 the age for legal carrying of concealed weapons, to implement an NRA-sponsored gun safety curriculum in public schools, and to lift obstacles to public school employees carrying guns in district buildings.
"It's great to be here with so many friends," Couture-Lovelady said when he stepped to the microphone. "Or, should I call you terrorists? That is what some politicians and keyboard warriors on Twitter are calling us these days. Demonizing millions of law-abiding gun owners and the National Rifle Association is not going to stop the next mass shooting."
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said another bill pending in the Legislature would require school districts to consult with law enforcement agencies on improved safety plans and release state grants to enhance school building security.
He also shared with the audience his personal experience with firearms as a self-defense tool. It was 4 a.m. a few years ago, he said, when someone tried to break into his house. He was there with his wife and three kids.
"I was able to take my .40-caliber, go downstairs, hold him at bay until police showed up," Ryckman said. "It's not just my kids and your kids we're concerned about. It's all kids."
Meanwhile, Gov. Jeff Colyer signed a bill prohibiting the possession of firearms by domestic abusers, illegal immigrants, fugitives from justice and people under restraining orders.
Jo Ella Hoye, a volunteer with the Kansas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said the signing of House Bill 2145 should be viewed as historic.
"Lawmakers worked together to do what is right to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, including certain abusive dating partners," she said. "Kansans have asked our leaders to do more to prevent gun violence for years, and now lawmakers from both parties have taken action that will save lives."