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One School Year Later, Guns On Kansas Campuses Draw Little Notice

Stephan Bisaha
Kansas News Service

For the past school year, guns have been allowed at public colleges in Kansas.

But the concealed nature of campus carry, alongside a year with no major gun-related incidents at Kansas universities, has meant most students and faculty haven’t really noticed the guns — or a difference.

“I kind of just forget that that’s a thing since I’m not a gun owner,” said Cammye Anderson, a senior at Wichita State University. “I’d be nervous if someone just pulled one out and was like, ‘Yeah, I just carry this around.'"

Universities had four years to prepare before campus carry went into effect in July. The law allows nearly anyone 21 and older to carry a concealed firearm at public colleges in the state. This spring, the Kansas Legislature considered dropping that minimum age to 18. Yet in the end, the law remained unchanged.

Schools largely resisted campus carry before it went into effect. Surveys of faculty and students found strong disapproval for the law; many were afraid guns on campus would make schools more dangerous. A Wichita State professor retired in protest of the law. Another at the University of Kansas started wearing a bulletproof vest.

But the year has, other than a couple of guns accidentally left in bathrooms, been quiet. 

"We're not the Old West where we meet each other on the ends of the street and shoot each other up."

“We’re not the Old West where we meet each other on the ends of the street and shoot each other up,” said Warren Glore, an information technology project manager at Wichita State and National Rifle Association instructor.

The past year is proof, he said, that campus carry works.

“Absolutely nothing has happened to point to the gun people and say, ‘See, I told you so,’” he said.

Police at universities across Kansas said there were no serious incidents involving guns since the start of the school year. That didn’t surprise them.

“What we were expecting is what we got,” said Capt. Corey Herl of Wichita State’s police department.

Police also said there’s no evidence to back up predictions that campus carry would act as a deterrent.

A drop in reported crime at the University of Kansas was held up as proof by some right-leaning outlets that campus carry was effective. But the university’s public safety office said the fall-off was no different than the typical fluctuation from year to year and that it is impossible to credit campus carry.

Emporia State University’s chief of police, Chris Hoover, said that it’s been a “typical” year, as far as crime on campus.

"I've been in this job for almost 20 years and I honestly haven't noticed anything major."

"I’ve been in this job for almost 20 years and I honestly haven’t noticed anything major,” Hoover said.

An analysis of Wichita State’s daily crime log found the number of reported crimes shifted no more than it had in previous years.

The quiet year and lack of guns in the open have caused the issue to fade for many on campus, though some students and faculty remain heavily opposed.

Opponents see guns as having unnecessarily made universities more dangerous. They say one year without a major issue isn’t proof their fears are unfounded, pointing to recent school shootings like the one at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 killed.

“It hasn’t happened yet,” said Xan Matteka, a sophomore at Wichita State. “But how are we supposed to know it couldn’t happen tomorrow? Because it could.”

Schools can still designate some spots and large sporting events on campus as gun-free. A location needs “adequate security measures,” such as metal detectors at a building’s entrances, to ban guns.

Some faculty aren’t convinced universities have the resources to keep guns out of all the places that should be, such as some labs with sensitive equipment.

“You don’t want to have a gun close to, let’s say, a propane tank in a lab,” said Mehmet Bayram Yildrim, an engineering professor at Wichita State. “If it accidentally shoots and hits one of those, it can cause great danger to everyone in the lab.”

Some professors also worry the presence of guns — or just the possibility of guns being present, as it’s a violation of campus carry to show a gun — will stifle vigorous academic debate.

“I’ve lost some of that sense of freedom to just speak out and be a professor and talk,” said Peer Moore-Jansen, the chair of Wichita State’s Anthropology Department.

Jansen said he’s not paranoid or expecting shootings to become commonplace. But college life is full of stress and pressures that some students can’t handle. He said adding guns only makes the situation more dangerous.

"Some of the concerns that we have are really intangibles, until they become real very suddenly."

“Some of the concerns that we have are really intangibles,” Jansen said, “until they become real very suddenly.”

Wichita State senior Daylan Andrews carries a .45-caliber pistol at school. 

To keep his gun concealed, he never takes off his red flannel jacket while on campus. It quickly gets uncomfortable on hot days — his skin chafes as sweat runs beneath the metal pistol tucked into his waistband. But Andrews says comfort isn’t the point.

“I’m not carrying it just because it makes me giggle on the inside,” Andrews said. “That’s not what it’s about."

Rather, he says it is about protecting himself and those around him.

“It’s about responsible usage,” Andrews said, “and showing other people that you care.”

Stephan Bisaha reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on @SteveBisaha. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.