Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fiery debate over expansion of concealed carry, assertion of state gun rights as Kansas House advances bills

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

The Kansas House on Wednesday advanced gun bills that could produce a standoff between state and federal law officers, and open up campuses, classrooms and the Statehouse to concealed weapons.

Supporters said the bills would make Kansas safer and assert the constitutional right to bear arms. Opponents said the measures would endanger public safety and lead to costly litigation.

House BIll 2199, called the Second Amendment Protection Act, and House Bill 2055, expanding concealed carry, were approved on a voice vote. A record vote during final action is scheduled for Thursday.

The most heated debate surrounded HB 2199, which says that any personal firearm, accessory or ammunition that is owned or manufactured in Kansas and that remains in the state is not subject to federal law. And under the bill, federal authorities trying to enforce any kind of rule on such a firearm would face possible arrest and criminal charges.

Several legislators said pitting local law enforcement against federal officers would set up a dangerous situation and jeopardize the public.

State Rep. Virgil Weigle, D-Topeka, said he worked for 28 years in local, state and federal law enforcement.

"When I was a federal agent, I wanted to make sure the locals had my back," Weigle said. "What you are doing here is going to destroy that relationship."

State Rep. Diana Dierks, R-Salina, said, "I am appalled that we are even thinking of passing this bill. We still belong to the United States."

But state Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, said Dierks was wrong. "The United States belongs to the citizens of Kansas, not the other way around," he said to a round of applause.

State Rep. Steven Becker, R-Buhler, a former judge, tried to amend the bill to remove the state authority over federal law and replace that with a provision that would direct the attorney general to defend Kansas gun rights in court.

State Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, urged support of Becker's proposed change, saying, "Our beef is not with federal agents. Criminalizing their behavior is not the solution. Let's take the fight to the proper venue, the courts."

But opponents said Kansas needed to assert its sovereignty and that the federal government should be held in check.

State Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, R-Grandview Plaza, criticized federal authorities for their actions in deadly confrontations in Ruby Ridge in Idaho and the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. "They get a lot of things wrong," he said.

Becker's amendment failed 59-60.

On HB 2250, concealed carry license holders would be allowed to carry their weapons in city, county and state buildings that didn't have adequate security, such as metal detectors and guards.

"If you can't provide security, let us carry," said state Rep. Ken Corbet, R-Topeka.

But opponents said the bill was coercing local governments to bend to the will of the Legislature. "That is exactly the opposite of what I thought the best government was about," said state Rep. Tom Moxley, R-Council Grove.

Universities, state-owned hospitals, nursing homes, community mental health centers and safety net clinics would be exempt from the law for four years.

But under another provision, universities and schools could decide whether to allow employees to bring their weapons to work.

State Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, said since supporters argued that expansion of concealed carry improved safety, even around grade-schoolers, he proposed an amendment to allow concealed carry in the Capitol. The amendment was approved.