By John Celock
The future of a bill to ban guns at Kansas public hospitals, including mental hospitals, is uncertain after the state Senate voted to send it back to committee.
The Senate voted Tuesday to send the bill back to the Ways and Means Committee following an amendment being tacked on to the bill to allow those with conceal carry permits to bring guns to hospitals, unless they are a patient. The move also came following debate over a proposal to extend the gun ban to college campuses and which committee should be hearing the bill. The move to send the legislation back to committee delivers an uncertain future as the annual legislative session could end by next week and the state faces a July 1 deadline to allow guns in hospitals and colleges.
“This is going to nothing but take away the right of a law abiding citizen to protect themselves,” Sen. Rob Olson (R-Olathe) said while speaking against the bill.
Guns in hospitals and college campuses have been one of the most hotly debated issues of this year’s legislative session in Kansas. The state faces a July 1 deadline to implement the four-year-old law allowing guns, unless a hospital or college puts security measures into place. College campuses and hospital leaders have appealed for the law not to go into effect but legislation to put a ban in place has largely been blocked in various legislative committees. State Aging and Disability Services Secretary Tim Keck, who runs the state’s two mental hospitals, has called for an exemption saying that he would need up to $24 million to implement security, but sought the money for the fiscal year starting July 1. Keck’s plan has drawn opposition from lawmakers on both sides, who questioned why he hadn’t requested the funds earlier.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee inserted a bill to ban guns in hospitals into another bill with Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn (R-Sedgwick) explaining Tuesday that issue is a budget one not a policy one. She cited the price tag from Keck, which has varied of between $12 million to $24 million to implement the plan at the mental hospitals and the over $30 million plan the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City said they would need to spend to put security measures in place. McGinn’s explanation received support from other lawmakers.
“Quite frankly we don’t have $12.5 million to appropriate for that purpose,” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) said of the updated figure for the mental hospitals.
Several lawmakers questioned why the bill went to the Ways and Means Committee, noting that gun policy typically is handled by the Federal and State Affairs Committee. Olson attempted to send the bill to the Federal and State Affairs Committee, which he is vice chairman of, but a motion from Sen. Vicki Schmidt (R-Topeka) to reroute it back to the Ways and Means Committee was adopted. If the bill was sent to the Federal and State Affairs Committee, it would likely have been dead for the remainder of this year’s legislative session.
The Senate voted 21-19 to adopt an amendment from Sen. Ed Berger (R-Hutchinson) to allow for concealed carry permit holders to bring guns into state hospitals, unless they are patients. Berger said that he wanted to protect the rights of concealed carry permit holders.
Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee) said that she favored Berger’s amendment since it would allow people to protect themselves in hospitals and fight back against any gun-wielding criminals. She noted that the current policy that says a sign should be posted saying that a facility is a gun-free zone is not a deterrent.
“Criminals will not be discouraged by a sign, instead they will be encouraged by it knowing there are no guns there to stop a criminal,” Pilcher-Cook said.
Several opponents said that the signs do not issue protection, saying that criminals know that there will be no guns in the facility. The sign issue has frequently been cited by supporters of the guns on campus and hospitals law.
McGinn argued against the Berger amendment saying that she does not believe that those in mental hospitals should be allowed near guns. She noted that when she and other lawmakers toured Lansing State Prison last month, the guards surrounding them did not have guns on them because of fear that an inmate could steal the gun and turn on the guard. McGinn said that the guards had other weapons on them with the only guns being in the guard towers.
“People who go to our state hospitals have been determined to be very disturbed individuals,” McGinn said.
Sen. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) offered an amendment to extend the gun ban to the state’s college campuses. Bollier read her colleagues the text of the Second Amendment and an opinion from the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on guns issues. Bollier quoted Scalia saying that while the Second Amendment offered a right to bear arms, prohibitions could be placed on guns.
Bollier, a retired physician, told her colleagues that medical research shows that guns should not be allowed near college students.
“What we have on campuses are a number of young people who are drinking alcohol, we have young people who are still in the last stages of brain development and often make poor choices,” Bollier said. “We have students who are away from home for the first time and are experiencing major life stresses.”
Bollier also noted that medical research has shown that guns are the most effective weapons used in suicide cases.
“When a gun is used to attempt to attempt suicide, it is almost always lethal,” she said. “When you examine the medical literature, there is no more lethal method than a gun to commit suicide.”
Bollier’s proposal garnered support from Sen. Tom Hawk (D-Manhattan), who represents Kansas State University. Hawk said that he did not believe that guns belonged on college campuses and noted that K-State President Richard Myers and former K-State President Kirk Schultz both oppose guns on campus. He noted that Myers, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has cited the military policy of concealed carry bans.
McGinn said that while she opposes guns on college campuses she opposed Bollier’s amendment because she wanted the bill to focus specifically on the hospital issue, believing that a narrowly tailored bill had a better shot of becoming law.
Bollier’s amendment did not receive a vote as lawmakers then sent the bill back to committee.
Bollier and her opponents on the issue said that they were trying to protect Kansans.
“In this state, our goal is protect our citizens,” Bollier said. “By allowing guns on campus, we are lowering that.”
Sen. Ty Masterson (R-Andover) disagreed with Bollier saying that guns on campus offered more protection.
“What we are talking about here is the right of your constituents to protect themselves,” he said.