TOPEKA — Former Secretary of State Kris Kobach returned to the Capitol on Wednesday to seek backing for a bill allowing felons who have convictions expunged or pardoned to regain the right to possess a firearm.
Existing Kansas law places a ban ranging from five years to a lifetime on possession of a firearm or knife by individuals convicted of felony crimes. Expungement of that prior felony, under existing statute, doesn’t restore a person’s ability to lawfully possess firearms in the state.
Kobach, a rural Lecompton resident and former professor of law at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, said the Kansas Legislature should reform law to exclude from the sanctions a collection of low-level nonperson felony offenses. The reform measure, Senate Bill 190, would retain lifetime bans for people convicted of person felonies with a firearm and the 10-year ban for people convicted of murder, assault, battery, rape and controlled substance crimes even if not in possession of a firearm.
“Bascially, SB 190 is a fix-it bill. It’s designed to correct an unintended problem in Kansas law,” Kobach said.
He said the proposed Kansas Protection of Firearms Rights Act would make clear that expungements and pardons freed convicted felons from the ban on firearm ownership. The restoration of rights through these legal processes would include the right to use, transport, receive, purchase, transfer and possess firearms.
“It gives clarity to the gun owner,” Kobach said. “I have found in practicing law in this area a lot of people are completely surprised, including prosecutors, of whether the person still has gun rights or doesn’t have gun rights.”
In addition, he said, the bill would guarantee people convicted of lower-level felonies no longer had to endure a five- or 10-year suspension of firearm rights. Lifetime bans in Kansas would apply only if the felon used a firearm in the relevant crime, he said.
Kobach said a comparable bill was passed in 2017 by a Senate committee, but the measure was never brought to a vote by the full Senate. Kobach was joined by a lobbyist with the Kansas State Rifle Association in support of Senate Bill 190 at the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee meeting. No one spoke in opposition to the bill and the committee took no action on the legislation.