April 2018

The Gun Lobby’s Grip: Campus Carry in Kansas

Scholar-activist Megan Jones reveals the ties between NRA lobbyists and the Kansas legislature that resulted in open-carry campuses across the state.

by Megan Jones

When I first arrived on the University of Kansas (KU) campus in the fall of 2015, I had no idea that there was already a Kansas law allowing hidden guns on public college campuses, although it would not go into effect until two years later. I had looked up the statute number printed on the sign prohibiting guns posted on every door of every building because I was curious as to why we needed signs prohibiting guns in the first place. To my shock and horror, I discovered that on July 1, 2017, those signs prohibiting guns would be taken down, and unless the university placed metal detectors, armed guards, and firearms storage facilities at every public entrance, anyone over 21 years old, no permit or training needed, would be allowed to concealed carry a firearm anywhere on campus.

Since I first learned of the law, also called the “Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act,” I have been studying it extensively and doing everything possible to reverse it. Both the law and its accompanying campus weapons policies were orchestrated by the gun lobby and made possible by a compliant Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR), an unwillingness to disclose information about the law on behalf of universities, and changes to state lobbying law which keep state-funded entities from communicating with the legislature about guns.

In 2012, HB 2353 was introduced into the Kansas House of Representatives. This bill would have legalized concealed carry in public buildings across the state, including on university campuses.[1] There was opposition to the bill from many universities and colleges, including KBOR, which took a formal stance in opposition to the idea of guns on college campuses. Many opponents of the bill argued that each institution should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to allow concealed weapons on campus, as Kansas legislators regularly voice support for local control in other aspects of government.[2] Gun laws are frequently an exception to this preference for local control, especially for those representatives endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA). KBOR and state university lobbying efforts were successful, and the bill died in Senate Committee.

In 2013, there was a second attempt to allow guns on college campuses by amending the “Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act.” This time it was successful.[3] The amendments, in addition to allowing guns on college campuses, permitted concealed firearms into all state and municipal buildings (except the state capitol) and prohibited the disclosure of which individuals had concealed carry licenses. Because the disclosure of the identities of concealed carry licensees is confidential information, universities are not allowed to require students or faculty with those licenses to identify themselves. This was further complicated in 2015 when the legislature removed permit and training requirements to carry a concealed firearm. Now, there is no record of who may be legally carrying concealed guns in public, confidential or not, because anyone over twenty-one who is federally allowed to concealed carry a handgun can legally do so in Kansas with no questions asked.[4]

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little cited concerns about enrollment when she refused to post links to the University’s page about concealed carry policies.

The law allowed post-secondary educational institutions and other affected public buildings to request a one-time, four-year exemption to create procedures to implement the law. This effectively meant that, while concealed guns were legally allowed in these public buildings in 2013, most of them obtained the 4-year exemption, so no-guns-allowed signs were posted, and guns were not permitted until July 1, 2017. The fact that the exemption period was 4 years was likely no accident—it is the amount of time it usually takes a student to graduate from a university in Kansas. Most students who were on campus when the law passed were long gone by the time the law actually went into effect. Students who started college between 2013 and 2016 were not generally informed of the law’s existence or the July 1, 2017 exemption expiration date.

In 2013, another lesser-known bill, HB 2162, which prohibited the use of state-appropriated funds for anything which could be considered lobbying for gun control, was also enacted. This bill was in direct response to the briefly successful 2012 efforts by state universities and the Board of Regents to keep guns off college campuses and was heavily supported by the Kansas State Rifle Association (KSRA) and the NRA. The circumstances surrounding this bill’s passage were not transparent. HB 2162 was originally a bill concerning ballot language that was completely gutted and replaced with the text of another bill, SB 45, or “an act concerning state appropriated monies.” In fact, the Kansas Legislature website still has the short title of HB 2162 listed as “Secretary of State; ballot language statements,” despite the complete change of content to a prohibition on state-funded entities communicating with the legislature regarding gun control.

SB 45 prohibited any state-appropriated money from being used for “any activity to advocate or promote any proposed, pending or future federal, state or local tax increase, or any proposed, pending, or future requirement or restriction on any legal consumer product, including its sale or marketing, including, but not limited to, the advocacy or promotion of gun control.” SB 45 passed the Senate 32-8 and was sent to the House Elections Committee, where Brett Gardner, NRA-ILA Kansas State Liaison, testified in favor of the bill, arguing, “this bill represents an important reform that would prohibit taxpayer funds from being used to finance anti-gun campaigns and gun-control lobbying efforts.”

State universities were not legally permitted to advocate for reversing the law once it went into effect on July 1, 2013 and before their exemptions expired on July 1, 2017.

The bill passed out of the House Elections Committee, but died on the House calendar, so the language of the bill was never discussed in the House Committee of the Whole. The Conference Committee on HB 2162 agreed to replace the entire contents of that bill with SB 45 as amended by the House Elections Committee. Then, both chambers suspended Joint Rule 4(k), which prohibits bills from being considered after a certain date, so that they could adopt the law in 2013. That law went into effect at the same time that the amendments to the Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act allowing guns on college campuses passed. This meant that, while public universities and colleges were openly opposed to the concealed carry law before it went into effect and lobbied the legislature to prohibit guns on campus, they were not legally permitted to advocate for reversing the law once it went into effect on July 1, 2013 and before their exemptions expired on July 1, 2017.

In response to low levels of public awareness about the law allowing guns on college campuses in Kansas, there were many student- and faculty-led attempts to inform people. KU rejected multiple efforts made through their faculty and university senates to get the university to make proactive efforts to inform prospective students. Despite pressure from faculty, KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little refused to place links to the University’s page about concealed carry policies on the main webpage, the admissions page, or the HR page, “at least not during the current legislative session as it may hurt enrollment.” Some people even attempted to independently inform the campus community, placing yellow stickers on the doors of every building at KU that said “[image of the ‘No Guns’ sign] expires on July 1, 2017.” KU continually removed those stickers and would not put up any of their own, despite a university senate proposal on February 9, 2017, which requested that they do. The lack of transparency about the existence of the law in Kansas even prompted a Minnesota congressman to introduce a bill called the Campus Gun Policy Transparency Act.

No Guns Sign KU - Sara Shepherd LJW
No guns sign on door of Wescoe Hall at University of Kansas campus. Photo by Sara Shepherd of LJWorld.com.

Although KBOR oversaw the creation of each campus’ weapons policy, each campus was technically allowed to create their own policy. Moreover, KBOR dodged student and faculty questions about their particular weapons policy. Their standard form reply stated: “Thank you for contacting the Board of Regents regarding this matter. Your correspondence will be shared with Blake Flanders, President & CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, along with the full Board.”[5] It was very difficult to get answers.

In 2017, KU attempted to create more restrictive measures than the KBOR policy by requiring guns on campus to be unloaded. This prompted the introduction of a bill in the Kansas House, HB 2220, which would make the KBOR policy preempt any university policies, so that no university policy could be more restrictive than KBOR’s base policy. State officials again overruled local preference. At the hearing for that bill on March 9, 2017, Travis Couture-Lovelady, a former state representative who quit his job during the 2015 session to become a full-time NRA lobbyist, said that KBOR was “great to work with,” that they met several times, and that the NRA felt good about the direction that KBOR had taken the gun policies.[6] At the same hearing, Zoe Newton, speaking on behalf of KBOR, assured the legislature that if they did not pass the KBOR preemption bill,  KBOR would ensure that individual university policies would not be considered too restrictive by the NRA. The bill died in committee, but KBOR overrode KU’s policy anyway. As it stands, concealed guns on KU’s campus can be loaded.

Travis Couture-Lovelady before HB 2220 Hearing
Travis Couture-Lovelady in conversation with an unidentified man before the March 9, 2017 hearing on HB 2220. Courtesy of the author.

Because KBOR was publicly against guns on campus in 2012 but was working in coordination with the NRA to create campus weapons policies from 2015-2017, I filed a Kansas Open Records Act request on June 10, 2017 for KBOR’s communications with Couture-Lovelady and certain draft documents that went into the creation of the weapons policies. The records custodian provided two documents without payment but charged $3203.21 for the rest of the records. When I narrowed the request, the charges actually increased by $380.22.[7] While I have not received all of the responsive records yet, the records I have obtained reveal that Couture-Lovelady did indeed communicate with KBOR on behalf of the NRA regarding their issues with KBOR’s draft weapons policies going back to at least December 2015, after resigning from his elected office to be a full-time NRA lobbyist in November of that same year. Kansas currently does not have any limits on former elected officials becoming lobbyists, although attempts have been made to change that.

The full extent of the communication and possible cooperation between KBOR and the NRA is yet to be revealed, but what is clear is that KBOR gave the NRA a platform to air their grievances and took those grievances into account while forming campus weapons policies. This same consideration was not given to faculty, students, parents, or community members. Despite the seventy percent of students and the seventy-seven percent of faculty across Kansas universities who wanted to change the law to keep guns off college campuses and the general preference towards stricter gun policies, KBOR opted to only create policies with the NRA’s approval. In fact, students approached the board as recently as April 2017 about this issue and they were met with dismissal. As a result, college campuses in Kansas are exactly as the NRA wants them: full of guns.

Students approached KBOR as recently as April 2017 about stricter gun control and were met with dismissal. As a result, college campuses in Kansas are exactly as the NRA wants them: full of guns.

Ultimately, we are just now learning how tight the gun lobby’s grip is on the Kansas legislature, KBOR, and public post-secondary educational institutions in the state. For years, the gun lobby operated at all levels of Kansas government virtually unchecked, but that is not true anymore. People are paying attention. In the 2017 session, the law allowing guns in hospitals was reversed before it went into effect. In the 2018 session, the legislature passed a law prohibiting convicted domestic abusers from possessing guns. There were also multiple attempts to repeal the law allowing guns on college campuses—one of which failed by only two votes. On March 27, 2018, in the largest show of opposition to a gun lobby supported measure in Kansas history, almost 300 people testified against a bill that could allow public school employees to carry hidden guns into K-12 schools—with less than seventy-two hours to prepare. The tides are turning in Kansas.

Megan Jones with Exempt Us SignMegan Jones has a B.A. in Comparative Literature and English from Indiana University (IU) and an M.A. in Literature from the University of Kansas (KU). As a graduate student, she did all she could to prevent guns from being allowed on college campuses in Kansas, including organizing at KU and other Kansas universities, making regular trips to Topeka, and getting international pressure put on the state. Although the collective statewide efforts to prevent campus carry in Kansas ultimately failed, she continues repeal efforts and operates www.failcampuscarry.com, a website dedicated to gun law transparency and Kansas gun violence prevention efforts.

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Notes:

[1] HB 2353 (2011/2012).

[2] Melody Rayl, Opposition Testimony on HB 2353, House Committee on Federal and State Affairs, January 26, 2012 http://kslegislature.org/li_2012/b2011_12/committees/misc/ctte_h_fed_st_1_20120126_05_other.pdf.

[3] Senate Sub for HB 2052 (2013/2014).

[4] Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act, K.S.A. 75-7c01 et seq.

[5] Personal Correspondence with Breeze Richardson, Director of Communications, Kansas Board of Regents 4/19/2016.

[6] Travis Couture-Lovelady, Verbal proponent testimony on HB 2220, House Federal and State Affairs Committee, March 9, 2017; http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/capitol-report/2015/nov/30/couture-lovelady-resigns-from-kansas-hou/.

[7] Megan Jones’ email correspondence with Renee Burlingham, KBOR records custodian, October 16, 2017.

1 comment on “The Gun Lobby’s Grip: Campus Carry in Kansas

  1. Ron Barrett

    Great article and good historical record of the incredible influence these monied groups have on the legislature as a whole and many individual legislators.

    Like

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