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Fight Over Campus Carry Continues Despite Setback In The Kansas Senate

Stephen Koranda
Kansas Public Radio
An opponent of the state's campus carry law outside the hearing Wednesday.

Opponents of allowing guns on Kansas campuses are not giving up their fight, despite a setback in a state Senate committee this week.

State law says colleges and universities must allow concealed weapons on campus starting this summer. Bills in the House and Senate would permanently exempt higher education institutions from the law, allowing them to continue banning guns.

Supporters of changing the law faced a setback this week. A Senate committee voted not to advance the bill to the full chamber for consideration. However, the push continued Wednesday in a House hearing on a similar measure.

The group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is part of the effort. Jo Ella Hoye says she's concerned about injuries or deaths caused by mixing guns with alcohol and the mental stresses found on college campuses.

“Moms Demand Action is here. We’re not giving up. We want sensible gun legislation,” Hoye says. “We want people to be able to own guns, but we also want colleges and municipalities to be able to say there are sensible areas where guns should not be.”

Rabbi Moti Rieber, with the group Kansas Interfaith Action, believes House passage could boost the bill’s chances in the Senate.

“We think that if the bill gets to the House floor, it’ll pass,” Rieber says. “It would give the bill momentum to come out of the House with a strong majority, which I think we would get.”

University of Kansas professor Ron Barrett told legislators Wednesday that guns should not be allowed on campus. He says many university labs contain chemicals that could cause an explosion, or worse, if they’re struck by an errant bullet.

“Some universities even store more dangerous materials, like tens of thousands of gallons of poisonous, carcinogenic flammables right in the middle of campus,” Barett says.

For others, like Emporia State University student Megan Hilbish, the issue comes down to constitutional 2nd Amendment rights, which they say don’t end on a college campus.

“We want to be able to conceal carry on college campuses to be able to defend ourselves and feel more safe and secure, especially with the inadequate security measures that colleges have now,” Hilbish says.

Supporters of the current law are also getting active this session.

“We will fight this until the last minute, until the last vote is counted,” says Kathleen Wade, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association.

The overflow hearing Wednesday appeared to be dominated by supporters of changing the law at the Wednesday hearing, but Wade says that doesn’t tell the whole story. She says they have supporters who aren’t able to attend events like the hearing.

Travis Couture-Lovelady, a former Republican Kansas lawmaker who now works for the NRA, says they’ve been mobilizing their supporters to contact lawmakers with emails and phone calls.

“We’re OK with the discussion. We feel confident in our arguments and confident in the people of Kansas, that this is the direction they want to go,” Couture-Lovelady says.

The chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, Republican John Barker, says he wants to give members of the committee time to consider all the comments before taking any action on the bill.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.