Rep. Rebecca Schmoe, an Ottawa Republican, advocated for a bill eliminating the state's concealed carry permit fees. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Paying for a license to carry a concealed firearm violates “God-given rights,” a House Republican argued during a tense discussion on gun law ethics this week.
A day after a deadly mass shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, Rep. Rebecca Schmoe, an Ottawa Republican, advocated for a bill reducing concealed carry licensing fees out of concern that lower-income Kansans cannot afford to pay them. Schmoe said it was wrong to have to pay to “exercise a right” and that people who opposed the bill were discriminating based on finances.
“It means that you do believe in separate access to rights based upon income, and that low-income need not apply.” Schmoe said. “I urge you to stand for the rights that we are granted — our natural, God-given rights.”
Kansas legalized the concealed carry of firearms in 2015. Under state law, anyone 21 or older can carry concealed weapons in the state without a license or permit, but getting a license allows Kansans to concealed carry a gun in other states.
A concealed carry permit costs $132.50, with $100 going to the Attorney General’s Office and $32.50 paid to the applicant’s county sheriff. To get the license, applicants have to undergo an eight-hour weapons safety and training course and obtain a certificate of completion from a certified trainer.
Schmoe and other bill supporters said the legislation would increase overall firearm safety in the state. The bill would get rid of the $100 payment to the Attorney General’s Office and remove permit renewal fees and late fees. Concealed carry licenses cost $16, with half of the money placed in the state highway fund. That fee also would be eliminated by the bill.
The Kansas Department of Revenue has issued an average of 21,139 concealed carry licenses every year for the past five years, and doing away with the licensing fees would cost an estimated $1.2 million loss in fee collections in the next fiscal year.
Attorney General Kris Kobach spoke in support of the fee reduction during a March 7 House committee hearing on the bill.
“One should not have to pay the state a fee in order to exercise a constitutional right,” Kobach said. “We don’t have to buy a license to exercise our right to speak here today. Church goers do not pay the state in order to attend church, and lawful gun owners shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege of bearing arms in a manner that is the most common way of carrying in the 21st century.”
During Tuesday’s debate, House Minority Leader Rep. Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat, supported the bill on the grounds that it would encourage more people to go through the training process.
“If they’re going to carry a weapon, I prefer they have the training,” Miller said.
Concealed carry opponents
Other Democrats spoke against the state’s loose gun control laws.
Reps. Barbara Ballard, Jo Ella Hoye, Stephanie Sawyer-Clayton and Linda Featherston all tried to shepherd gun control measures into the bill by introducing amendments on increased training, safe gun storage and tighter controls on gun access.
All amendments were pulled because GOP members ruled the changes weren’t germane to the licensing process.
Featherston, a Overland Park Democrat, said she initially thought about supporting the bill because it would encourage more people to get trained. Featherston changed her mind after speaking with one of her constituents, a pregnant mom terrified for her family’s safety.
Featherston said the mom told her she was worried about taking her children in public spaces because of fears of gun violence.
“I’m not sure at this point that I can betray that mom nor do anything that would allow one more hidden, loaded gun on a college campus,” Featherston said.
Hoye said she was angry about debating the bill a day after the latest U.S. mass shooting. A former student at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, killed three children and three adults before police officers killed the shooter.
Hoye said it was time to tighten Kansas gun laws and challenged the ruling that her proposed amendment wasn’t germane.
“Frankly, I’m tired of inaction from lawmakers like us,” Hoye said. “I’m willing to break the rules to protect our kids.”
Her rule challenge failed.
The House passed the legislation 91-33 on Wednesday morning. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
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