Despite approved school security funding, Kansas leaders grapple with gun threat

By: - June 8, 2022 8:30 am

Just a few months ago, Kansans woke up to the news that a gunman had entered Olathe East High School and opened fire. March 4, an 18-year-old student brought a gun to school, seriously injuring an administrator and school resource officer. (Margaret Mellott/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The sunny Friday of Dec. 14, 2012, became one of the most horrifying days in U.S. history when a gunman opened fire at a Connecticut elementary school.

Twenty-six people were killed, 20 of them children.

“I remember going to pick up my own kids after Sandy Hook,” said Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat. “There was a police car at the elementary school at the time, and it just kind of takes your breath away.”

Ten years and dozens of mass shootings later, children are still dying in U.S. classrooms. The shooting last month at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, has people across the country calling for action — including candidates seeking public office in Kansas.

“How could this have happened?” asked Joseph Nuci Jr., a Republican candidate for Kansas House District 115, from Dodge City. “You know, you’re supposed to have all these barriers in line, all these barriers to be able to keep this from happening. And they all fell through. You shouldn’t be able to just walk into a school.”

In Kansas, funding has been approved to improve both school security and mental health resources for students.

“The Legislature has once again (for the fifth year in a row) initiated and approved $5 million in annual funding for school-safety grants in the coming year,” wrote Attorney General Derek Schmidt in a Twitter thread following the events in Uvalde.

Schmidt is a Republican gubernatorial candidate, running alongside Katie Sawyer, a senior staffer for GOP U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall. He will face Democratic incumbent Gov. Laura Kelly in the fall.

“As Attorney General, I have long worked to support the professionals who keep our kids safe at school,” Schmidt continued in the thread. “As the terrible crimes in Uvalde, Texas, last week once again reminded our nation, and as the shooting at Olathe East High School recently reminded Kansans, school safety is an ongoing need we all must continually work together to meet.”

On March 4, an 18-year-old student brought a gun to Olathe East High School and seriously injured an administrator and school resource officer.

In a reply to Schmidt’s tweets, Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said the $5 million in funding isn’t sufficient enough to substantially improve school safety.

“There are 1351 school buildings in Kansas,” Witt wrote. “$5 million works out to $3701.00 per building. Tell me, Mr Attorney General, how far does $3700 get? Spoiler alert: Not far.”

Schmidt and Witt weren’t the only two who responded to the latest school shooting on Twitter. U.S. Republican Sens. Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall of Kansas also shared their sympathies.

“Robba and I are heartbroken,” Moran tweeted. “This is horrifying news and every parent, teacher or community’s nightmare. We join all Americans in mourning the lives of the children and teacher lost to this senseless act of evil.”

“Absolutely devastated to hear about the 14 children and 1 teacher who died in Texas today,” Marshall tweeted. “Our hearts and prayers are with their families during this incredibly difficult time.”

Robert Klingenberg, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate from Salina, said in an interview last week at the Secretary of State’s Office that basic needs must be addressed to find solutions for school violence.

“What we have to understand is that all violence is rooted from socioeconomic conditions,” Klingenberg said. “The No. 1 way to prevent school violence is to address those directly. So, that can take a lot of different forms — such as providing jobs that provide living wages, handling social issues at school, things like bullying.”

For Nuci, school safety comes down to two things: improving security and allowing teachers the chance to carry concealed firearms.

“Put more money into the security systems that these schools have, because we have spent a lot of money in other ways that should have gone to that,” Nuci said. “And then to allow teachers to carry if they feel the need or they have the specialized training to be able to allow them to carry.”

Sykes said the goal was not to ignore the Second Amendment but to find middle ground in the Kansas Senate for concrete action.

“In the grand scheme, there are other things that are just as unsafe,” Sykes said. “This is highlighted in the media. … But it doesn’t mean that we sit by and don’t do anything. We have to have the conversation and figure out how we can come to a compromise because we don’t want to take away the Second Amendment, but we do want to have guardrails to make it safer for our kids.”

Agreeing with Sykes’ sentiments, Nuci said the first step is opening up conversations in the House and listening to each other.

“In politics in general, there is a greater good when we can work together,” Nuci said. “And if you’re not willing to even open up a conversation then you’re not representing your community to the highest of your ability.”

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Margaret Mellott
Margaret Mellott

Margaret Mellott is a recent Emporia State University graduate of communication and journalism. During their time at ESU, they spent all four years on the campus paper, The Bulletin. She also spent one year with The Campus Ledger at Johnson County Community College. Outside of collegiate journalism, Mellott has also worked on projects for Vintage KC Magazine and Humanities Kansas.

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