TOPEKA — Angela Lee’s son, Justice Mitchell, was fatally shot by another teenager June 26, 2017, in a botched robbery outside a Topeka fast-food restaurant.
“I’ve never in my life felt so lost,” she said. “Hundreds of children gathered and cried and prayed at our home and again at his gravesite, because we know gun violence affects the entire community. Eighteen-, 19- and 20-year-olds commit gun homicides at a rate nearly four times higher than adults 21 and older.”
Lee, wearing the red T-shirt of activists in Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told a Kansas House committee Wednesday there was no justification for a bill creating a special concealed-handgun license applicable to under-21 Kansans who felt the need to be secretly armed. She said House Bill 2059’s extension of state law on concealed-weapon permits wasn’t rational because it would make it easier for people to keep deadly force within easy reach.
Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Derby Republican and frequent proponent of legislation tied to the right to bear arms, said the objective was a provisional permit that would authorize Kansas residents 18 to 20 years of age to earn a license to carry concealed. He said it could be packaged with House Bill 2058 introduced to restore a statute that previously guaranteed recognition by Kansas of conceal-carry permits issued by other states, including permits held by teenagers.
“I don’t think we want to authorize nonresidents to be able to carry in Kansas and not have those same rights for our constituents,” said Carpenter, who was unpersuaded by comments reminding him Kansas law prohibited purchase of alcohol until age 21. “Nothing magical happens when you turn 21. Many Kansans are responsible gun owners at 18, 19, 20.”
He said Kansas law enabled under-21 Kansans to participate in open carry of firearms, but made it illegal for those same people to cover the gun with a jacket or stick it in a purse.
In addition to the two associated bills, the House Federal and State Affairs Committee conducted a hearing on a measure authorizing the attorney general’s office to issue letters affirming new concealed-gun permits processed during a declared disaster. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, the Kansas Department of Revenue hasn’t been able to complete the process by producing identification cards for people with a new Kansas license to carry concealed. The approach outlined in House Bill 2089 would allow the attorney general to mitigate the problem of interrupted service for up to 90 days after end of a disaster.
Jason Watkins, a lobbyist representing the Kansas State Rifle Association, said the organization endorsed the trio of bills. He said it was time to open the door to individuals ages 18, 19 or 20 who qualified for a Kansas license to legally possess a concealed firearm. Adoption of the change will allow Kansas to join the dozen states extending the right to teenagers and seven states making that accommodation for under-21 people serving in the military, he said.
“With the sharp increase in first-time gun ownership and record-breaking firearm sales,” said National Rifle Association representative Travis Couture-Lovelady, the state must “help assure new gun owners across the country that their constitutional rights are preserved when they travel to or through Kansas.”
Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, said the proposed legislation would exacerbate the public health crisis of gun violence. He said bills before the 2021 Legislature were part of the gun lobby’s strategy to abandon meaningful restrictions in Kansas.
“We should not subject our young people, or our state, to social experimentation based on a misguided and deadly ideology. Let’s stop this failed experiment before it goes further,” he said.
Semie Rogers said her son, Rowan Padgett, was shot to death in Olathe two weeks before he would have turned 18. The gunman was another teenager. She said vehicle insurance companies understand the capacity of young people to flirt with life-and-death circumstances and assess them higher premiums in recognition of elevated accident rates.
“Why we would want to allow these young people to carry concealed handguns is beyond my comprehension,” she said. “If these bills make it into law, almost certainly kids will end up dead who should be alive.”
Kansas is a so-called “constitutional carry” state, which means individuals 21 or older may carry concealed firearms without first undergoing training or passing a background check that accompanies an application for licensure. The advantage of a Kansas license is the opportunity for a person to carry concealed in other states that reciprocate with Kansas, said Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
Schmidt said absence since 2015 of precise reciprocity language in Kansas law raised red flags in several states that inquired about status of permission to carry concealed in Kansas. Attempts since 2017 to convince the House and Senate to restore the language have fallen short, he said, but House Bill 2089 would erase doubts about Kansas’ legislative intent.
“It is possible that in the future, some licensing authority in another state could determine the lack of specific recognition language in our statutes is not sufficient for reciprocity,” Schmidt said.