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In Kansas, gun-rights supporters face pushback from campuses

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – With university communities pushing back and a political shift in the Legislature, gun-rights advocates who’ve enjoyed a string of victories in Kansas are facing a new test of their clout as lawmakers consider repealing a law allowing concealed guns on campuses starting in July.

A state Senate committee was having a hearing Thursday on a bill that would give universities, colleges and public hospitals and clinics a permanent exemption from a 2013 law that allowed gun owners to carry concealed weapons into more public buildings. The law granted the universities, colleges and hospitals a four-year exemption.

The Federal and State Affairs Committee’s hearing comes only four days after a 19-year-old male Kansas State University student was transported to a hospital with a self-inflicted gunshot wound from a weapon kept in a dorm room against university rules. While supporters of the rollback bill are pointing to the incident, their push to keep concealed weapons off campus has been building for months.

“There are a lot of concerns about safety,” said Andrew Bennett, a Kansas State math professor and its Faculty Senate president. “I think the fact that we had the accident on campus brings home, when you have guns, accidents tend to follow.”

Kansas is among eight states allowing concealed weapons on campus, according to the National Rifle Association.

The Kansas law requires universities, colleges and hospitals to allow adults 21 or older to carry concealed weapons into their buildings if they don’t have adequate security measures, such as metal detectors or guards. Those measures could be expensive, so guns would be allowed in most buildings.

The law with the four-year exemption for universities and hospitals passed with large, bipartisan majorities in 2013, and some of the legislators who backed it see no reason to modify or repeal it. The NRA said Texas’ experience with concealed carry on campuses demonstrates that fears of an increase in accidents or gun-related violence are unfounded.

Sen. Ty Masterson, a conservative Andover Republican who supported the 2013 law, said the Kansas State accident shows that a university’s ban on concealed guns “does not stop weapons from being on campus.”

Other supporters of the bill said students, faculty and staff should have the option of defending themselves with guns while on campus. They have a powerful ally in Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who signed the 2013 measure and other gun-rights bills and said he remains a strong supporter of gun ownership rights protected by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In a brief interview Wednesday, Brownback acknowledged the concerns on campuses but added, “It’s a constitutional right.”

Voters last year ousted two dozen of Brownback’s conservative GOP allies from the Legislature, giving Democrats and moderate Republicans more power. And the debate over guns heated up as the state Board of Regents worked on policies governing issues such as the storage of weapons in dorms, offices and vehicles.

The issue has become sticky for some rural legislators who’ve backed gun-rights measures in the past because university administrators, faculty and students have been vocal. House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a moderate Dighton Republican, voted for the 2013 law and isn’t yet saying whether he’d support a rollback.

“There are two sides to the debate, absolutely, and I’m sympathetic to both points of view,” Hineman said.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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