by Stephen Koranda, Kansas Public Radio, Kansas News Service
The Kansas Senate and House voted Thursday to allow public health care facilities to continue banning concealed weapons. The 24-16 Senate vote and 91-33 House vote send the bill to Gov. Sam Brownback for consideration.
A state law taking effect July 1 will allow people to carry concealed guns into any public building that is not secured by armed guards and metal detectors.
During debate, Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn said it doesn’t make sense to allow guns in places like state psychiatric hospitals.
“These are individuals who are severely ill. They could take a gun away from an employee, and then we have a problem,” McGinn said.
The bill also would exempt public hospitals and the University of Kansas Health System, including KU Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning said allowing guns at the KU Health System would make it harder to attract staff. He said it also would be difficult to install security at the facility so the hospital could continue barring guns.
“Just think of the TSA when you fly. Ten thousand humans walk through the KU door every day,” Denning said. “It makes no sense from just a practical matter.”
Critics of the bill said if security isn’t in place to bar all guns, law-abiding citizens should be able to carry a weapon for self-defense.
“You’re just taking away the right for someone to protect themselves legally in these facilities,” said Republican Sen. Rob Olson, who added that a gun ban won’t stop people who are intent on breaking the rule.
“The only people we’re empowering here are the people who are going to do bad things,” he said.
Reporters asked Brownback before Thursday’s debate if he would veto or sign the bill.
“I’m not going to articulate anything. I’m going to watch the debate. It’s an important one,” the governor said.
Senate President Susan Wagle offered an amendment backed by the National Rifle Association that would have narrowed the bill to only bar guns in some areas of mental facilities and the KU hospital. She said narrowing the bill would mean a likely signature from the governor.
“This is the best solution that we can come to that protects the Second Amendment rights that we have already enacted in the state of Kansas and yet gives flexibility,” Wagle said.
The chamber rejected Wagle’s amendment. Threats of a veto didn’t sway some lawmakers who want a wider exemption, including Republican Sen. Barbara Bollier.
“I refuse to be held hostage to the governor’s pen, and thus will be voting no,” Bollier said.
Kwanequa Jones is a Washburn University graduate who was at the Statehouse for a rally. She wanted lawmakers to expand the firearm discussion to include an exemption for universities, so those buildings could continue barring guns after this summer.
“I am happy they are working on not allowing guns in medical facilities,” Jones said. “I think guns not being allowed in all facilities would be great.”
Even lawmakers who want to exempt universities from the concealed carry law decided not to pursue it as part of the bill. They were concerned adding an exemption for universities would garner a veto from the governor and mean losing the health care facility exemption as well.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service, kcur.org.