Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, R-Baxter Springs, and Sen. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, took the lead in advancing a pair of bills broadening possession of concealed firearms and adding an NRA-sponsored gun safety program to Kansas public school curriculum options. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate approved a double-barrel package of bills Thursday expanding the right of people as young as 18 to carry concealed firearms, implementing a gun-safety curriculum sponsored by the NRA for K-12 public school students and affirming Kansas reciprocity of conceal-carry laws adopted in other states.
The pair of bills approved by the Senate with veto-proof majorities also would enable a person convicted of certain nonviolent crimes to regain the right to possess firearms and to carry concealed after having the court record expunged.
The Republican majority deflected a series of amendments offered by Democrats that would have preserved the minimum age for carrying concealed at 21, dropped the expungement reform and added a “red-flag” provision permitting a court to order seizure of weapons protect potential victims of domestic violence.
Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, R-Baxter Springs, and Sen. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, effectively deterred passage of amendments they believed were out of step with their work during the 2021 session to bolster opportunity of people to express Second Amendment rights.
The Senate voted 31-7 to approve House Bill 2089, which contained the K-12 gun curriculum reform. The chamber voted 30-8 on House Bill 2058, which included the lower age for carrying concealed. The House could concur on both bills or force negotiations with the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, said she grew up around firearms and was a champion of gun-safety education. She drew the line on rejection of amendments designed to keep weapons out of the hands of inexperienced teenagers and away from adults with criminal convictions. She was not impressed with the commitment of GOP legislators to put K-12 public school teachers at the forefront of teaching children about guns in addition to core subjects of math and reading.
“Children in the United States die from gunfire at a higher rate than any other industrial nation,” Sykes said. “The responsibility for protecting these children from these lethal weapons should not be dumped on already burden teachers.”
NRA’s Eddie Eagle
Under House Bill 2089, Claeys said the legislation would require the Kansas State Board of Education to establish curriculum guidelines of a firearm safety education program for use by public school districts. It would be known as the “Roy’Ale Act” in recognition of a Wichita boy who was killed in an accident while playing with a handgun.
Local school boards would have final authority on imposition of the firearm education instruction, but the bill set boundaries in terms of what curriculum would be available.
It would mandate the National Rifle Association’s “Eddie Eagle” gun program for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. In grades six through eight, according to the bill, students could receive the Eddie Eagle program or hunter education instruction offered through the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. The students in grades nine through 12 would be offered instruction in gun safety through the state parks department.
“I recognize this for what it is,” said Overland Park Democratic Sen. Cindy Holscher regarding the idea of gun education in public schools. “It’s a marketing tool. To me, this is Joe Camel in feathers. It’s just another way to entice kids to gun ownership, to keep fueling the industry.”
She asserted legislators accepting campaign contributions from the NRA could experience a backlash from the gun-rights lobbying organization by not abiding by the quest to embed more pro-gun statutes in Kansas law. She said it was wrong of the Kansas Legislature to cater to the NRA and step into the curriculum development best left to educators.
Remembering a boy
Claeys led the charge to defeat an amendment offered by Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, that would include in the gun-safety instruction a recommendation to keep firearms in locked safes, boxes or other child-proof containers. Faust-Goudeau said the mother of the child who died in the accident would appreciate official recognition of the importance of storing guns securely.
“I’m totally supportive of training our children. I just want to put more emphasis on safety, education and saving lives,” Faust-Goudeau said. “The mother, who is still grieving, it would really make her feel good to just look at the bill and see the word storage in it. Nothing is more relevant than life and death. Let’s add another tool to the tool box.”
Claeys said the Eddie Eagle program made reference to safely handling firearms. He said tweaking the National Rifle Association’s curriculum would cost Kansas taxpayers money.
At his urging, the Senate rejected Faust-Goudeau’s amendment 13-21, a margin that reflected the chamber’s majority sentiment on proposals to modify the firearm legislation.
This bill would be named in honor of Roy’Ale Spencer, the 9-year-old boy in Wichita accidently shot and killed by a friend in 2019. The boys managed to get into a potentially damaged gun safe and were handling a shotgun when Spencer was shot. The Sedgwick County district attorney didn’t file charges in the death.
On social media, Spencer’s mother, Sunny Smith, said she supported the firearm safety bill initially developed in the Kansas House. She also endorsed a gun storage bill introduced by Faust-Goudeau.
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Republican from the community of Sedgwick, said she was concerned Claeys couldn’t answer a question about whether students could be forced by a local school board to participate in either the NRA or the KDWPT programs.
“I truly hope somebody can find and answer to that,” McGinn said.
Sen. Mary Ware, D-Wichita, followed with a proposed amendment that would strike language in the bill giving school districts, at least for the K-5 age group, no choice but to accept the NRA curriculum if a district proceeded with the idea of offering instruction on gun safety. Her amendment was easily defeated.
“We talk about local opinion as being the Holy Grail in so many other issues,” Ware said. “Why would we not be doing that here? I do object, really strongly, to not having choice.”
Teens with hidden guns
In regard to House Bill 2058, Hilderbrand said the Senate decided to package the expungement provision allowing for restoration of gun rights with House-passed pieces solidifying the state’s approach to reciprocity of conceal-and-carry licenses from other states and lowering the minimum age for carrying concealed from 21 to 18.
Hilderbrand simplified the age debate by declaring it foolish to allow a teenager to openly carrying a weapon, while retaining the current prohibition on that person putting on a coat that concealed the same firearm. Under the bill, Kansans 18 to 20 would be eligible to carry concealed in public after completing gun training, a background check and paying the required state fee.
“We have 18-year-olds going overseas fighting for our freedoms and our safety and we’re going to come back here and say, ‘I’m sorry, you’ve got to wait,'” he said.
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, failed to convince the GOP-led Senate that it would be wise to make the minimum age no less than 19. She said her objective was to decrease the likelihood that high school students socializing with their peers would unknowingly be associating with people in legal possession of a gun.
Democrats also failed in an attempt to include in the bill an amendment enabling a district court to order removal of firearms from possession of a person considered by a judge to be a danger to others or to himself or herself.
“This is a common-sense measure,” Holscher said. “If we’re talking about reciprocity and more guns potentially coming into the state, it is incumbent upon us to put protections in place among our most vulnerable, including our women and children.”
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