Wyoming Advances; Kansas Debates Campus Carry

By John Celock

Wyoming lawmakers advanced legislation to allow concealed carry on college campuses, while Kansas lawmakers held a hearing on a bill to repeal campus carry.

The Wyoming House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday to allow the practice, following a debate that centered on whether guns should be allowed at colleges. The Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee took testimony Wednesday morning that focused on whether the scheduled implementation of campus carry on July 1 would hurt students and the reputation of the state’s colleges.

“I’m a woman and I have been raped. If I had a gun in that moment I can almost guarantee you I would be dead now. Guns do not make women safer in sexual assault,” Megan Jones, a graduate student at the University of Kansas, told Kansas lawmakers. “The perp is more likely to be a friend and acquaintance than a man lurking in the woods. I don’t want to be on a campus with guns. Someone is going to die if this bill does not pass.”

The Kansas hearing, the second in the last week on the subject was dominated by supporters of the repeal measure. The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee earlier this week defeated a repeal bill on a party line vote.

The repeal of campus carry in Kansas has become a hotly debated topic, with moderate Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature, along with outside groups, pushing the bill. Conservative Republicans, including Gov. Sam Brownback (R), along with the National Rifle Association and the Kansas State Rifle Association, are pushing to keep the law in place.

Supporters of the repeal told Kansas lawmakers that the implementation of campus carry would make Kansas a less desirable place for students and faculty. One mother said that she would encourage her daughter to attend a college outside of the state, while a faculty member said that he and others would be less likely to stay in the state and would take their research grants with them.

Supporters of the repeal took aim at the opponents of the repeal.

“Do you really think the lobbyist for the National Rifle Association really gives a damn what happens in Kansas?” one supporter said about NRA lobbyist Travis Couture-Lovelady, a former Kansas lawmaker.

Couture-Lovelady argued that tragedies have occurred on campuses, which are gun free zones. He said that the law allows for universities to opt out of campus carry if they provide for security measures. The colleges have said the costs of the security measures would not make those feasible.

In Wyoming, those of both sides of the debate echoed many of the same themes. Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) offered an unsuccessful amendment that he said was patterned after Kansas law. Zwonitzer’s amendment would have allowed colleges to block guns at sporting and speaker events if adequate security was provided.

Zwonitzer said that Wyoming colleges have invited in controversial speakers on all sides of the political spectrum and they have needed extra security. He also noted that the measure would make the state’s colleges places where speaker including presidential candidates and President Donald Trump could speak due to security requirements.

Zwonitzer called on his colleagues to focus on working on the bill not looking at political points.

“We used to have legislators here who would make bills better. We don’t have them anymore. We don’t have as many amendments. I wanted to step forward,” he said. “This is language that came from another state that is a flexible state in this regard. We’re really concerned about making good laws that benefit the people of Wyoming, that’s what we do as a Legislature.”

Rep. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester), the sponsor of the measure, said that Zwonitzer’s amendment was too vague and did not define what adequate security was. He and other lawmakers said that Zwonitzer’s amendment could allow faculty members to ban guns from classrooms and offices if they devised a security plan they believe was adequate.

“We have a problem with they adequate security measures in here,” Biteman said. “It is problematic and it broad.”

Rep. Roy Edwards (R-Gillette) said that he does not see Zwonitzer’s amendment being needed to recruit speakers to the state.

“I am for the bill and against the amendment. At an event they had this spring in the center of the state,” Edwards said. “We had some presidential candidate show up and we had some people there with weapons and nothing was made of it. They came and spoke and nothing happened.”

House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie), a college professor, said that the bill would cause professors to be cautious with students during private meetings in offices. She said that many of the meetings involve contentious issues and that she would likely tell her colleagues to cut short those meetings and summon law enforcement.

“I never ever think that someone is armed. I just don’t. That will impact how I go about how I have future discussions in the classroom,” she said. “It will impact how I will interact with students in my office. As a department head for nine years how I would talk to faculty about those kind of discussions with students in their offices. I would say that you need to assume that every student who comes in are arm.”

Rep. Tim Salazar (R-Dubois) told his colleagues that not all college students are doing drugs or getting drunk and can responsibly use weapons. He noted that many in the same age range currently serve in the military.

Supporters of campus carry in Wyoming said that the bill would allow for students to protect themselves in case an incident did occur on campus with an active shooter.

“We are arming good guys with guns,” Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette) said. “We’re not arming bad guys.”