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Supreme Court Precedent Backs Kansas Restrictions On Guns In Public Buildings

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Stephen Koranda
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KPR/File photo

Kansas lawmakers seeking to keep university campuses, hospitals and government buildings off limits to firearms are facing a familiar argument from opponents.

Namely, that such restrictions infringe on the right to keep and bear arms protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“It’s a Second Amendment issue,” says Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican. “It’s a right to bear arms issue.”

Whitmer says a proposal to maintain a short list of restrictions on where people can carry concealed handguns is “dead on arrival” in a Legislature committed to defending Kansans’ constitutional rights. But two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions say the type of restrictions that some Kansas lawmakers are attempting to preserve don’t violate the Constitution.

Writing for the court’s 5-4 majority in a 2008 case in which the court struck down a Washington, D.C., ordinance banning handguns, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “Nothing in the ruling should be taken to cast doubt on … laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”

Two years later, when the court struck down a similar ban in Chicago, Justice Samuel Alito affirmed the list of permissible restrictions specified in the earlier decision and added, “We repeat those assurances here.”

In Kansas, lawmakers are debating whether to maintain the very kind of restrictions the court highlighted. A bill scheduled for a hearing Thursday in the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee would strike parts of a 2013 law that require local governments and universities to allow the concealed carry of handguns in public buildings starting July 1.

Read SB53 here.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, voted for the 2013 law but now says she favors retaining the protections it would eliminate.

“The Supreme Court has affirmed that keeping guns out of schools and government buildings is perfectly acceptable,” Kelly says, noting that her change of heart cost her the endorsement of the National Rifle Association in the 2016 campaign.

Kelly says the recent defeat of several conservative incumbents by moderate Republicans and Democrats has changed the makeup of the Legislature to the point that the bill may have a chance of passing.

“I think it’s going to get a robust debate,” she says. “But I think there very well may be the votes for it.” Kelly says a recent incident at Kansas State University involving a 19-year-old student who accidentally shot and wounded himself in his dormitory may also be a factor in the debate.

Jim McLean is managing director of KMUW's Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks.