Kansas Legislature votes to override governor’s veto of lowered concealed carry age, controversial license plate

Rep. Blake Carpenter argued against claims that a license plate bearing the Gadsden Flag was based in slavery and racism. Instead, he said the plate shows a desire for freedom from "tyrannical" government. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Kansas Legislature moved Monday to override the governor’s veto on a hotly-debated bill to lower the concealed carry minimum age to 18.

House Bill 2058 creates two license classes — a standard license for those over 21 years of age and a provisional license for those who are at least 18 years of age. Kansans of 18 to 20 years would be eligible to carry concealed in public after completing gun training, a background check and paying the required state fee.

The measure also affirms Kansas reciprocity for concealed firearm laws adopted in other states.

Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, noted other states have similar laws in their statute books. The key element of the bill, he said, was the required training for this age group.

“We already have 18-year-olds that can open carry guns in the state of Kansas,” Barker said. “This requires them if they are going to carry a concealed weapon, to get training and to get a permit and to have a background investigation… Any time people can get training that’s a good thing.”

Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed the bill in late April, stating the measure was “neither safe nor effective.” The House chose to override the veto by a narrow margin 84 to 39, the minimum number of affirmative votes required to do so and the Senate followed suit 31-8.

The bill was among more than half a dozen vetoed items the House and Senate voted to overturn.

Rep. Luis Ruiz, D-Kansas City, Kansas, said many elements of the bill were not bad but that even with training, teenagers are not mentally mature or developed enough to be allowed to conceal carry. He countered a common argument made by supporters of the bill that 18-year-olds can join the military by pointing to a culture of respect for their weapons within those institutions.

“A lot of times I see things happening around where I live where young people who carry firearms want to gain respect by carrying instead of respecting the firearm,” Ruiz said. “We can always send this back and change that amendment.”

Sen. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park, said passing this measure would be counterproductive amid a growing push to address mental health issues. She also noted firearms are the second leading cause of death for children and teens in Kansas.

“Part of that issue is because of the fact that many individuals who are 18 are still in high school,” Holscher said. “They’re associating with younger children, they’re at parties together. Again, we don’t sell alcohol to anyone under 21 because that’s considered dangerous. The same can be said of this action.”

 

“Don’t Tread on Me”

Earlier Monday, the House voted 86 to 37 to overturn the governor’s veto of a package of distinctive license plates drawing the ire of Democrats for the inclusion of a plate they said honors a notorious slave trader. Hours later the Senate voted 28 to 12 voted to complete the override. 

The bill authorizes the creation of the divisive license plate modeled after the Gadsden flag, which bears a hissing snake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me” Christopher Gadsden, the designer of the flag, was a merchant and slave owner.

Critics also point to a wharf bearing his name in Charleston, where an estimated 100,00 slaves landed in the United States. Supporters of the bill argue the flag may have ties to Gadsden, but the flag does not represent slavery. Instead, it represents a desire for freedom for excessive governance.

“That flag harkens back to the founding of our country and against the tyrannical British government,” said Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Debry. “Today a lot of constituents have either flags, bumper stickers or even license plates on the front of their cars containing the Gadsden flag because nobody wants the government to tread on their rights and I think that this is especially true today as it was 250 years ago.”

House Bill 2166 also authorizes the creation of several new plates to support various organizations, including a plate to support state educators, veterans and raise money to fight childhood cancer. Gov. 

The measure originally passed the Senate 29-5 and the House 81-41.

The bundle sans Gadsden Flag plate passed the House without opposition before being amended to include the controversial provision in the Senate Transportation Committee. Neither chamber held a hearing on this element of the bill, drawing criticism for inadequate vetting or opportunity for public input.

House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer said he had no qualms if individuals desired to fly the flag of their own accord, but the Legislature should not put a state stamp of approval on this measure. 

“Most of the license plates in this bill are fine but the one that the Senate added, the one with the Gadsden flag, is just too objectionable,” Sawyer said. “As the state of Kansas, we should not be sanctioning that.”

In her veto, Kelly said inserting the provision turned an otherwise positive piece of legislation into a sure veto. 

Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat who voted against the bill, said he hopes a vigorous public information campaign will ensure no Kansan ends up supporting slavery because of the plate’s “clever slogan.”

“We are promoting and giving the opportunity for people to unwittingly support despotism in our history with the Gadsden flag,” Haley said.