In a concealed carry information session on Tuesday afternoon, students, staff and faculty asked questions about how the University would handle guns on campus and the intricacies of the law that will allow concealed weapons on campus.
The information session was hosted by University Senate president and journalism professor Mike Williams and consisted of two parts. First, Williams told the attendees about the law and what has been done so far, which includes sending out student, faculty and staff surveys on guns and working with the Kansas Board of Regents on its weapons policy.
Williams then opened the floor to questions from the audience and addressed questions sent in through email and posted on Twitter.
Under the law, anyone over the age of 21 could carry a concealed handgun in public buildings, including on campus and in dorm rooms. Universities have a four-year exemption from concealed carry in public buildings, but that expires on July 1, 2017.
Williams clarified that open carry is still illegal in public buildings, so showing a weapon would be a violation of the law. However, he said people have different thoughts on what is considered a threat and the University community has to be prepared to possibly see a gun in someone’s backpack or holster.
“We certainly can’t operate a University where every time somebody sees a weapon they call 911 and consider it an active shooter,” Williams said. “Unfortunately these are the issues we are trying to address. My threat level and your threat level are completely different. All we can do is define it as cleanly as we can [and] take the opportunity to share the ideas.”
Most of the speakers had concerns with the law and questioned how the University would continue to be safe if guns were allowed on campus.
Williams said the University can’t afford to secure every building on campus, but said it's looking at securing sports arenas and could secure certain areas of buildings, like labs or childcare centers.
Jeremy Martin, an associate professor of mathematics, asked if faculty would have the power to refuse to have guns in their classroom or office. Williams said he and the University are working to figure out what the intricacies of the law are.
“[I’m] absolutely intending to make part of our discussion an establishment of those kinds of ground rules,” Williams said “If, when we explore what the possibilities are, that we can say this environment is a gun-free zone at your privilege, because it’s your private office then we are going to make sure that information is out there and present, but I can’t tell you that today. I’m never going to tell you to break the law.”
One student who works as a resident assistant asked how guns would be handled in dorm rooms. Williams said the Regents’ proposed weapons policy says students would either be able store their weapons in University provided storage or buy their own weapons storage for their room.
“The student could still have the weapon in their room if they chose, it would just be required to be locked up when it’s not in their concealed carry possession,” Williams said.
John Hoopes, a professor in the anthropology department, asked how the University planned to deal with the increased risk of gun suicides on campus. Williams said the University could devote some funds to increasing mental health services.
“I think before we spend millions and millions of dollars to put detectors on the doorways, we’d be much better off spending some millions, if that’s what it takes, to hire more mental health staff and make more facilities available quicker and easier,” Williams said. “Most certainly, among the many things that will be recommended, those will be very high on my list.”
Several people asked if gun owners who wanted to concealed carry would have to tell the University, or if the University could require gun owners to have permits or background checks. Williams said the University can’t require anything that the law doesn’t, and the law allows for concealed carry without a permit or training.
However, Williams said the University is looking into education about concealed carry that would be similar to the Alcohol Edu training each student takes.
“If we assume nothing changes, one of the things we have to do is prepare people to be more comfortable in an environment that has weapons, whether or want them or not,” Williams said. “That does include better training for those who want it or better recognition of what a threat might actually be.”
He said that while the actions the University can take are limited under the current law, there's still a slight possibility that the Legislature could continue the exemption or alter the law.
— Edited by Rebeka Luttinger