Which amendment to the U.S. Constitution is more important — the First or the Second? Obviously both were important to the nation’s founders.

In today’s society with somewhat looser interpretations of the original intent of the first two items listed in the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment appears to be winning. There just doesn’t seem to be many successful strategies against strengthening the right to bear arms.

Concerning the First Amendment, most controversies erupt around the religion and free speech clauses. Clashes are becoming more common that pit one person’s religious rights directly against another’s free speech rights, and vice versa.

Somewhat more rare are conflicts between one’s right to free speech and another’s right to bear arms. They do exist, however. Kansas lawmakers should take note of one such example they created themselves.

Thanks to a recent survey by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, we now know there is overwhelming support for amending state law when it comes to carrying concealed weapons inside campus buildings.

In preparation of that law’s implementation in July 2017, the Regents Council of Faculty Senate Presidents and the Regents University Support Staff Council commissioned Docking to gauge faculty and staff opinions. After responses from almost 11,000 employees at six Regents universities and the University of Kansas Medical Center, the results were resounding: Seventy percent of those surveyed do not want guns on campus.

Additionally, 90 percent favor requiring gun-toting Kansans on campus to possess a permit to do so.

Dr. Lorie Cook-Benjamin, associate professor at Fort Hays State University, president of the FHSU Faculty Senate and chair of the Council of Faculty Senate Presidents, said: “The survey’s results clearly show that a majority of our employees want to see the law amended so guns are not allowed on campus.”

Many a reader might suggest the finding is not surprising, given the “liberal” bent of most universities. When liberal is defined in an academic sense, it simply means “concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience, rather than with technical or professional training.” Kansas Regents universities proudly accept the charge and challenge of opening students’ minds to new thoughts and experiences — rather than reinforcing a particular religious or political dogma.

This is where the Kansas Legislature’s rush to reaffirm and broaden a right enshrined in both the U.S. and state constitutions — that of bearing arms — runs head-on into another’s free speech rights.

For the same Docking survey shows 70 percent of respondents indicating having guns on campus will negatively impact their course and how they teach. Sixty-six percent said their academic freedom to teach the material and engage with students in a way that optimizes learning would be limited, while 60 percent said they’re concerned they will need to change how they teach their course if guns are allowed in the classroom.

Faculty and staff at universities throughout the state (only Washburn was excluded from the survey) are serious about their concerns. About half of respondents said they would be less likely to work at their university if concealed carry were allowed.

Kansas legislators were made aware of such concerns when debating the Personal and Family Protection Act in 2012 — and not simply from professors. University police, police chiefs and sheriffs from across Kansas showed up to testify against the vast expansion of places people could carry weapons.

But as the campus provision draws a little closer, lawmakers would be wise to revisit the issue. Kansas has enough of a problem with “brain drain” — the fleeing of young adults once they’ve obtained their college degree. We don’t need to drive out some of the state’s most brilliant minds working on campuses because legislators were afraid to reject a cookie-cutter bill from the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Nobody’s Second Amendment rights were being threatened when this bill became law. A lot of people’s First Amendment rights are being threatened with the law’s implementation.

So, which amendment is more important? That’s really not the issue, is it?

We believe it is the Legislature’s duty to deal with real threats as opposed to imagined ones.


Editorial by Patrick Lowry