Kansas bill would allow school employees to carry guns

The Kansas City StarMarch 13, 2013 


Ernie Vandergriff fires at a target during a class for a concealed handgun license at The Shooting Gallery in Fort Worth, Texas

RON JENKINS — Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT

Christina Blair of Shawnee has twin daughters in high school, including an aspiring teacher.

She worries what might happen “if a madman comes in with a gun and you’re locked in a classroom. How do you defend against that? You can’t,” Blair said.

“I would feel much safer,” she said, “if there was another way for teachers to defend their classroom.”

Judith Deedy of Mission Hills has heard arguments about how gun-free zones might invite violence against the defenseless. Yet with three kids in elementary schools, she’s not convinced that arming school staff is the answer.

“Guns in schools with curious children,” she said. “What more could possibly go wrong there?”

The national debate over guns and classrooms has taken root in Kansas, where some lawmakers are maneuvering to allow schoolteachers to carry guns.

Two bills to expand the state’s concealed-weapons law contain provisions that would let school boards allow any employee licensed to carry a concealed handgun to bring a firearm to work.

They echo others introduced in Missouri and at least a dozen other states following the mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December.

The bills follow a path scouted by the National Rifle Association, which has called for armed security guards at every school to fend off the next mass shooting.

“When you’ve got somebody coming in with a gun that intends harm, the only real answer is a good guy with a gun,” said state Sen. Forrest Knox, an Altoona Republican and the primary sponsor of the gun legislation.

His line closely mimics the words of Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, and his organization’s stance that the road to safety is manned with broader use of firearms to keep danger at bay.

Knox said the legislation gives school districts more latitude to decide how to protect themselves from armed intruders. He said schools could decide who gets to carry concealed weapons and impose any further requirements. The measure would include community colleges and universities.

“We need to give schools flexibility,” Knox said, “to do whatever they choose.”

The Kansas bills are expected to see action this week, close on the heels of South Dakota becoming the first state to expressly allow school employees to carry guns.

Officials at the National Conference of State Legislatures said other states have granted exceptions to their weapon-free school zones that might be interpreted to allow teachers to carry guns.

But the organization was not aware of any state law specifically authorizing teachers to carry firearms — the way South Dakota has done and Kansas is contemplating.

Missouri’s bills appear stalled, at least for the moment, in committee. Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has made clear his opposition.

Today, the Kansas House is expected to take up a bill that would require the state, cities and counties to allow concealed weapons into their buildings unless they have security checkpoints at public entrances.

College and government-run hospitals could still ban guns for four years without installing the security measures.

A comparable bill in the Senate is scheduled for a committee hearing Thursday.

Efforts to allow concealed weapons in public buildings have fizzled in previous legislative sessions. But this year, the idea is greeted by a decidedly more conservative Senate.

Neither officials from the National Rifle Association nor the Kansas State Rifle Association returned calls for this article.

An NRA spokesman told The New York Times that the group supported and lobbied for the South Dakota legislation.

Even without legislative action, some think guns might still legally find their way into Kansas schools. The state association of school boards contends existing law might already give superintendents the power to authorize their staff to carry firearms.

Some teachers say they feel vulnerable in their classroom, noting there’s not much that would keep an intruder out.

“We’re really just sitting ducks here,” said Tina Keith, a Shawnee Mission social studies teacher.

Keith would support letting teachers carry concealed weapons if the faculty had training beyond the eight hours of instruction spelled out in the state’s concealed-carry law.

“Having the general public believing or knowing that people within the school are armed or trained would be a deterrent,” she said.

Yet other teachers and some parents aren’t ready to put triggers at the ready.

“The people that would have guns — they’re not trained to be a police officer that knows how to attack a situation,” said Randy Davis, a retired Merriam police officer and the father of two high school students.

“If you are putting a life-and-death piece of equipment into your hands, are you prepared to take the next step?”

Some area school districts are cool to the idea of letting staff carry weapons.

“It just makes no sense,” said Shawnee Mission Superintendent Gene Johnson. “There are better ways for us to address safety issues than putting a gun in everybody’s hand.”

Blue Valley Superintendent Tom Trigg said he did not expect his district to allow employees to carry weapons if the bill became law.

Both districts are participating in a school safety project — called Defense of our Schools — that involves roughly 200 school officials and police officers from across Miami and Johnson counties.

Created in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, it intends to identify the best practices for school safety.

“We’ve got a good plan,” said Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass, “but it needs tweaking.”

Meanwhile, schools in other parts of Kansas have started taking action to protect students in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting.

The Emporia School Board voted in January to post armed guards — both retired police officers — at the school district’s middle school and high school. The guards started Feb. 1.

The district started looking at armed guards before the Sandy Hook shootings when officials attended a training session on school shootings that was offered by the Department of Homeland Security, spokeswoman Nancy Horst said.

From that training, they learned that having guards on site would greatly reduce any response time to a crisis, she said. She said the new security was added with little or no public resistance.

“One of the reasons that this went through fairly quickly and didn’t get a lot of backlash,” she said, “is those men are retired police officers and have been in our community a long time.”

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