TOPEKA — The “no gun” signs commonly posted at Kansas campus buildings are coming down as a law went into effect Saturday requiring public colleges allow people 21 and older to carry concealed guns.
The gun prohibition signs have drawn criticism from gun rights advocates who pushed for the law that requires public buildings to allow concealed weapons unless the buildings can be secured with metal detectors and armed guards. For college campuses with several or even dozens of buildings with entrances in every direction, such measures are cost prohibitive. Gun rights advocates have said people should be able to carry to protect themselves from those illegally carrying guns on campus.
“There’s already guns on campus, and to say there’s not is kind of having your head in the sand,” said Travis Couture-Lovelady, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and former state representative.
As a four-year preparation period ended Saturday, students and professors were left with questions about handling situations that could arise under the new law. Some are optimistic or supportive, but others are looking for jobs elsewhere.
Kyler Jost, 22, who will be a senior at Kansas State University, said he plans to take advantage of the new rules and carry a gun in his backpack this fall, though he said he wouldn’t have pushed for the law. His concern, he said, isn’t protecting himself against an active shooter in a lecture hall, but rather feeling safe when he walks home from studying at 2 a.m.
“You don’t have time for the police to get there at that point,” he said.
Jost said he might not choose to carry his gun on campus during the day.
Complying with policy on campus
Students like Jost who decide to carry a gun in their backpack must have it within their reach at all times under several colleges’ and universities’ policies, but some professors, students and administrators are concerned those policies will be broken when students set their backpacks down and walk away to do a lab experiment or take a test.
Craig Mosher, vice president for institutional advancement at Highland Community College, said lab students would be told their weapon has to be in their control at all times, and he said they might be encouraged not to bring it. He said, however, that professors can’t require students leave their guns at home.
Professor Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, an aerospace engineering professor at the University of Kansas, said lab professors who work with dangerous chemicals are unsure how to handle the new law. He said there had been general agreement that guns shouldn’t be in labs alongside flammable materials.
“We received zero guidance. None whatsoever,” he said.
KU has campus-carry policies, procedures and safety recommendations on its website along with a link to request training from the campus police department. The university didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on implementation of the concealed-carry law.
Those concerns haven’t been a problem at Independence Community College, which started allowing guns immediately after the law went into effect rather than waiting for the grace period to run its course. Its president, Dan Barwick, said the small campus — with approximately 500 to 700 students attending classes on site — hasn’t had any gun incidents in the four years since the law was passed.
“Really the only time, actually, it ever even comes up is when researchers call us asking for what has happened on our campus as a result of doing that,” he said.
Barwick said faculty at Independence decided the materials used in their chemistry labs weren’t dangerous enough to warrant any additional concern about guns.
Open carry still prohibited
In place of the former “no guns” signs are notices that openly carrying a gun still is illegal.
At Highland Community College, professors have some flexibility in how to handle it when someone’s firearm is showing.
“There’s not a clear directive to them,” Mosher said. “That can be reported to the police and probably should be reported to the police.”
He said they also have flexibility in responding to guns left unattended in backpacks during classes.
Megan Jones, 24, a master’s student and former graduate teaching assistant at KU, said professors and students haven’t received sufficient guidance on how to handle compliance with the law and policy.
Couture-Lovelady recommended a safety video created by Johnson County Community College that advises students and faculty to report openly carried guns to campus police. JCCC’s gun website also recommends calling police if the gun seems to be an immediate threat.
No permit required
Jost said he was 10 years old when his dad taught him to shoot and approximately 13 when the two first went pheasant hunting.
“I was raised around guns,” he said.
He said he has taken hunter safety courses, and one of his friends who plans to carry a gun has taught hunter safety.
But under a law passed two years after the original campus-carry law, Kansans 21 and older who aren’t otherwise prohibited can carry a firearm without applying for a concealed-carry permit. Jost said he thought most people who decide to carry on campus will have expertise, minimizing the risk of accidents.
But KU professor Maryemma Graham said she was concerned about students accidentally harming themselves or others, either because the student is struggling with a mental health crisis or acting irresponsibly. Graham said she is looking for a new job because she doesn’t support concealed-carry on campus.
In the meantime, Graham said, she might be more apprehensive about counseling stressed students one-on-one in her office with the knowledge that the student might have a gun.
“Is it simply a matter of always keeping your door open so you can make a quick exit? It raises all kinds of difficulties that we just don’t know how to handle,” she said.
Couture-Lovelady said he thought campuses would go back to “business as usual” after an initial period of apprehension concerning implementation of the law.