By John Celock
The first stages of a debate over legislation to ban guns at hospitals are showing dividing lines between gun rights advocates and gun control supporters in Kansas.
The state House Federal and State Affairs Committee started work on the bill Tuesday to prohibit guns at the University of Kansas Medical Center, exempting the hospital from a state law allowing guns in public buildings. Much of the debate centered an amendment that would ban guns from pubic hospitals; adult care homes, community mental health centers and health clinics. The committee will continue debate over the bill and amendment Wednesday.
“I think is a reasonable approach to a balancing act. Rights are given to us but we’ve always had some control. Mental health clinics personally that is a no brainer,” Federal and State Affairs Committee Chairman John Barker (R-Abilene), the amendment’s sponsor, said “As to public hospitals, ERs are one of the most dangerous places in the world. In those days we’d bring in gang members. With great respect to the Second Amendment I believe this is a reasonable approach.”
Supporters of the Barker amendment said that KU Medical Center is a safe place and security measures are in place that allow the hospital’s police force to handle someone who poses a threat. Opponents of the measure said that the amendment was too broad and would not allow hospital staff to feel safe on the grounds of the sprawling complex. KU Medical Center executives told the committee earlier this month they wanted a gun ban put into effect, noting that guns in the hospital would add an extra security threat.
Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) called the amendment a “common sense” solution and described the hospital’s police force as “robust.” She noted that survey results of patients show that they do not feel in danger.
“In the question for did you feel safe and secure in your stay, the response rate is 97 percent yes range,” Rooker said. “People feel safe there.”
Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita) voiced opposition to the amendment, saying that he would support a gun ban for patient care areas but not other parts of the medical center campus. During the hearing, Whitmer had expressed concern about the ability of the hospital to ban guns at future hotels and restaurants on the campus.
Whitmer said his primary concern was for the safety for hospital staff to walk to and from their cars safely.
“This bill is not reasonable.” Whitmer said. “This bill says that if you are a female employee walking to your car at 3 a.m. you can’t carry.”
KU Medical Center executives had told the committee that the medical center police provided escorts to garages for staff when requested. Rep. Louis Ruiz (D-Kansas City), who represents the medical center, told the committee that there are phones available around the campus to call for an escort.
Rep. Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) cited the escorts as part of his opposition to a gun ban. He said that he believes that it is “highly unlikely” that the police would be available to escort all 10,000-hospital staffers if asked.
Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) also cited similar concerns to Whitmer that the amendment was too broad and would not cover any future hotels or cafes developed on the medical center campus. During the hearing, the medical center officials said that they were not planning to build a hotel or restaurant on the campus.
Rep. Boog Highberger (D-Lawrence) said that he does not believe that the amendment would cover the open spaces on the campus, but only the buildings. He noted that the bill would also not infringe on Second Amendment rights. Highberger questioned why people felt that there was a need to carry a gun.
“What I will never understand is why people are so afraid,” Highberger said. “A skinny old guy like me can walk around and not feel afraid.”
Williams responded to Highberger that when she is walking alone at certain hours she does have a certain amount of fear and being able to carry a gun helps alleviate that fear. She said that if she were working at the hospital she would not want to call for a security escort every time she walked to and from her car.
“This bill does nothing to protect anyone from someone who has deadly motives or has malintent,” she said.
Under the terms of the public buildings law – which takes effect on July 1 – the medical center could only prohibit guns if they provided security at every entrance, which the hospital said would be tough to do. Under the current law, the hospital can prohibit guns by posting a sticker on the door saying it is a gun free zone. The bill is one of several gun bills pending in the Legislature, including those to allow for guns to be banned on college campuses.
Legislation to allow for guns on college campuses has been making progress in other states, including Wyoming.
Carpenter said that the sticker would not provide protection, a line mentioned previously to the committee by a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.
“A sticker on the door won’t stop a gun from coming in,” Carpenter said.
Rooker, who had read an opinion from the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on concealed carry rights, said that people will break a law regardless of the sticker and that the Legislature’s job was to address concerns and provide the hospital with the ability to do patient care.
“For the argument of the sticker on the door is it no different than the statue books on the shelf behind me. People will choose to break laws,” she said. “With the utmost concern for the patients I would urge passage of the amendment and the underlying bill so they can carry out patient care to the best of their ability.”