By Ashleigh Tidwell
KU Statehouse Wire Service
The day is drawing nearer when students, faculty and staff will be able to carry guns on college and university campuses in Kansas.
In April 2013, Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill that would allow concealed carry permit holders to carry firearms on college campuses. The bill included a four-year exemption that would give time for universities to prepare, meaning guns would officially be allowed on campuses in 2017.
As the date approaches, colleges and universities are putting together task forces and committees to evaluate how the new legislation will affect campus life and what the costs would be to install greater security measures.
“We’re really in our research stage,” said Keegan Nichols, assistant vice president of Student Affairs for Fort Hays State University. “Our student government took on the project and they’ve been looking at study after study to educate themselves on what this legislation will entail.”
The law requires all state run buildings to allow concealed weapons on its premises unless proper security measures are installed. Those security measures would come in the form of metal detectors and security guards stationed at each public entrance, which is likely to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Jack Martin, University of Kansas director of strategic communications for the Office of Public Affairs, said the university is taking instruction from the Board of Regents and conducting an assessment of all buildings and facilities.
“In regards to how security plans and procedures may or may not change, as a general practice Public Safety and the university do not discuss security plans,” Martin wrote in an email.
Capt. Donald Stubbings of the Kansas State University Police said there are several logistical concerns that go in to putting new security measures in place. Administration must evaluate how each building is used, whether for classes, offices or outbuildings, and determine how installing security measures would affect the flow of traffic for students going to and from classes.
“They’re giving universities the four-year exemption to allow time for administration to evaluate the security of their buildings and the costs of installing greater security measures,” Stubbings said.
Beyond the logistics, many university officials are concerned for the safety of their students, faculty and staff.
Chris Hoover, director of University Police and Safety at Emporia State University, is fearful for the safety of both his officers and the students.
“I’ve been with students since 1981 and I know the sort of stress they’re under and the pressures that are put on them,” Hoover said. “When you add guns to that, nothing good is going to come of it.”
Hoover said that students often make rash decisions and when those decisions involve guns it is likely to turn deadly.
“When you have a gun strapped to your hip, it’s easier for someone who’s in a heated discussion to pull it out in anger and make a bad decision,” Hoover said. “Honestly, this thought really scares me.”
To date, there has never been a shooting reported on a college campus in Kansas, however, proponents of the legislation often cite school shootings like the one at Virginia Tech in 2007 to justify the bill. Supporters say that if a law-abiding, gun-carrying citizen had been present, lives could have been saved. Hoover, however, sees it differently.
Although he acknowledges that there is a possibility of a Good Samaritan neutralizing a threat, there are other things he wishes people would consider.
“I honestly don’t think the average citizen is psychologically prepared to use deadly force,” Hoover said. “They go through their eight hours of training (required for a conceal-and-carry license) and think they’re ready to handle the situation. But the reality is, most trained police officers aren’t even prepared to handle that sort of situation and they go through far more extensive training.”
One of Hoover’s main concerns is that the Good Samaritan will be the one perceived as a threat when the officers arrive on scene.
“When we get to a scene we have very limited information about what is going on,” Hoover said. “All we know is that the person with the gun is the bad guy, that’s the first person we go to.”
Hoover’s biggest fear is that the average Joe who was able to stop the shooter, will then be in danger of being harmed by one of the responding officers who believes he or she is the original shooter.
When the bill was proposed in 2012, police chiefs from eight Kansas colleges opposed the bill in a written testimony to the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. Richard Johnson, associate vice chancellor for Public Safety and Chief of University Police for the University of Kansas Medical Center, wrote the testimony in representation of all University Police Chiefs in Kansas.
He expressed concerns similar to those of Hoovers in the testimony.
“In that split second the responding officers have to decide, ‘Is that man in the classroom with a gun in his hand the bad guy or a student with a license to carry a handgun?,’” the testimony reads.
For Hoover, the chances of something good happening are slim to none.
“I know this is a hypothetical situation, but there are so many ways I can see this sort of situation going wrong,” Hoover said. “In the end the negative outweighs the positive with this legislation.”
Ashleigh Tidwell is a University of Kansas senior from Topeka majoring in journalism.