Gun-friendly Kansas lawmakers consider some small limits

March 1, 2018

Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, answers questions from reporters about gun issues, Thursday, March 1, 2018, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Ward and other legislators are pursuing proposals that include enacting a "red flag" law to allow judges to confiscate the guns of people seen by family members as being a danger to others. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are considering “red flag” proposals to allow judges to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed a safety risk and a measure designed to ensure that fugitives and domestic abusers are prosecuted for illegal gun possession.

While work on such issues could be seen as a shift in the political climate of a Republican-leaning state that’s been friendly to gun-rights groups and their initiatives, it would not be a big one. Proposals to ban bump stocks, limit the sale of semi-automatic weapons or keep concealed guns off college campuses aren’t being seriously considered this year.

An illustration of what’s changed and what hasn’t is preliminary work by some House Republicans on a broad package of school-safety initiatives, begun after the Florida mass shooting. It’s likely to focus on seeing that schools develop good safety plans and the state boosts its spending on mental health services.

“I’ve gotten a couple of really thoughtful emails that say, ’Let’s do something. Let’s make sure the schools have a plan in place. Let’s have safety, but let’s not limit our Second Amendment rights,” state Rep. Susan Humphries, a Republican representing a conservative Wichita district, said Thursday.

Before the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, more than two dozen bills on gun issues were pending in the Legislature, reflecting a wide range of views. And concerns about school safety are greater now, as they are in other states.

The Kansas House unanimously passed a bill last month before the Florida shooting to make it illegal under state law for fugitives and people convicted of domestic violence to possess a gun, so that such cases could be prosecuted in state courts rather than federal ones. A Senate committee is expected to vote on it later this month.

But House members also passed a bill that would allow 18- 19- and 20-year-olds to obtain state permits to carry concealed guns; under a 2015 law, people 21 and older can carry concealed without a permit. Its future is less clear.

Senate leaders have committed to having a committee hearing later this month on a proposal from moderate GOP Sen. Barbara Bollier, of Mission Hills. It would allow people who fear family members are a danger to themselves or others to go to court to get a judge to order guns removed from their homes for up to a year.

“It is a great start, not because of the Parkland shooting but because of suicide and gun violence in general,” Bollier said.

House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat running for governor, is pursuing his own version that would allow the guns to be removed indefinitely. He credits the national visibility of students who survived the Parkland shooting with shifting attitudes.

But even some fellow Democrats aren’t convinced that Kansas has seen much change. Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a moderate Overland Park Republican, said while her constituents favor gun-control measures, “I don’t know how to get the rest of the state to vote to support those things.”

The House did cancel a debate last week on a bill aimed at encouraging public schools to offer gun-safety courses and giving preference to a 30-year-old National Rifle Association program in elementary schools. But a version of the proposal could re-emerge as part of the school-safety package being developed in the House.

And after U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, expressed support for raising the age for owning semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15 used in the Florida shooting to 21, the Kansas State Rifle Association sent an email “action alert.”

The group said increasing the purchasing age would prevent “a 20 year-old single mother” from buying the “most effective self-defense rifle on the market.” It described the AR-15 as “making 3 felons vs. 1 homeowner a fair fight.”


This story has been corrected to show that the correct spelling of the House member’s name is Susan Humphries.


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