Private colleges and universities in Kansas grapple with concealed carry on campus

Photo courtesy: Pottawatomie Co. Economic Development

TOPEKA/MANHATTAN (KSNT) – As public universities and colleges in Kansas overseen by the Board of Regents are preparing to open their campuses to concealed carry, private higher education schools in the state are also grappling with the issue. Although not legally required under the law passed by the state legislature to allow open carry, the Kansas Independent College Association’s 18 schools are also wrestling with the possibility. Concealed carry weapons will be allowed in all Kansas public college and university buildings by July 2017, unless a building has specific security safeguards in place.

KICA President Matt Lindsey tells KSNT News that although they are not bound by the new law, it still could have a significant impact on their members’ campuses. Lindsey says their schools’ collective 25,000 plus students would essentially make them the third largest university in Kansas. As such, he says their campuses must consider not only whether or not to allow concealed carry on their campus, but how to clearly communicate their school-specific policies to faculty, students, and visitors. He says there is a great deal of confusion among the public regarding the law and its application specifically to state colleges and universities. Lindsey says many people don’t currently understand that what applies to the University of Kansas in regard to concealed carry, does not apply to Baker University. Additionally, he says their schools also have the option of allowing a specific group to carry concealed weapons such as trained security guards or even professors but not students; or a variety of other variations.

Lindsey says KICA colleges and universities are well aware of the controversy surrounding the issue and the potential impact of policies their schools develop will have on students and faculty. He says each school will decide for themselves based on their specific mission. For instance, he points to the fact that two of their 18 member schools are Mennonite, a sect of Christianity which holds peacemaking as central to their beliefs.

“We are grateful that the legislature remembered they [KICA schools] are independent colleges. We are independent for a reason,” KICA President Matt Lindsey told KSNT News by phone. “It allows each institution to think about it [concealed carry] as it fits their mission. It differs campus by campus.”

According to Lindsey, the private schools are currently wrestling with the issue ahead of the law’s 2017 implementation at public colleges and universities. He says there is not a blanket approach. Not only must they decide whether or not to allow concealed carry by specific individuals on campus, but many of their member university’s main campuses are in rural areas where students may wish to keep a rifle in their vehicle for hunting purposes on weekends.

At Baker University in Baldwin City, Dr. Lynne Murray, the school’s president says they have reviewed their policy since the legislative changes and guns will remain prohibited on their campus. In an email to KSNT News, Dr. Murray wrote, “We have not reconsidered allowing weapons on campus because at Baker University we believe our colleges and universities are safe sanctuaries for learning, and we believe our students would be endangered by the presence of concealed handguns and other weapons.”

The school has unarmed security guards on their flagship campus which is also within walking distance of the Baldwin City police station, Murray notes. She says that the university has a “very supportive and cooperative relationship” with the department.

It’s a similar situation at Atchison’s Benedictine College where weapons are not currently allowed on campus, nor are they considering any change to that policy despite the new law affecting public universities and colleges in Kansas. They do, however have unarmed security officers providing protection for the campus. “We believe it is safer for our students, faculty and staff to remain a weapon-free campus,” Steve Johnson, Director of Marketing & Communication replied in an email to KSNT News.

One private university with a very unique situation is Manhattan Christian College whose campus sits directly across the street from Kansas State University. Many MCC students are also concurrent students at K-State, working on dual degrees or studies simultaneously. Students face the specific challenge that what is allowed on one campus for the future, may not be permissible across the way at the other. That’s something that the schools must clearly communicate, and their students must educate themselves about.

Manhattan Christian President Kevin Ingram says he does not believe that the two schools’ close proximity is a complication from a policy perspective. He says the new concealed carry law that will impact K-State could change the dynamic some, however he points out that has yet to take place and it’s not clear what effect, if any, that could have on MCC’s campus. Mr. Ingram says there has yet to be a specific conversation between MCC and K-State administrators concerning the new concealed carry law, however he tells KSNT News that he anticipates there will be a discussion in the future.

Currently, no weapons are allowed on the MCC campus, and that will not change for students according to President Ingram.

“We have already determined that students would not be allowed to [carry concealed weapons],” Ingram said.

However, that does not mean that the blanket weapons ban will remain in effect. MCC is beginning to consider allowing a small, specified group of employees to carry a concealed weapons; purely from a campus safety perspective.

“We are in initial discussions to determine if we would allow only certain faculty and staff to carry a concealed weapon…Those who would be allowed to carry would have to undergo rigorous preparation and training to ensure the safety of our campus, and their safety as well in the midst of a situation when it would warrant to involve them,” Ingram explained.

Because MCC is such a small campus, they do not currently have armed security on campus. Ingram says they do have a good relationship with the Riley County Police Department, and RCPD has a sub-station in nearby Aggieville that is helpful for MCC campus safety. Like Manhattan Christian, many of the private educational institutions don’t have sworn security staff. Lindsey points out that campus size and expense are often a factor. That raises additional issues of argument as to whether or not concealed carry should be permitted on these campuses.

K-State President Kirk Schulz has been very vocal about his opposition to the law that takes effect for public colleges and universities like his in 2017. However, Schulz says his denouncements of the law and warnings of potential danger have fallen on legislators’ deaf ears.

“The thing that bothers me the most, is that there’s no training required,” Schulz said recently. “I worry that’s where we are going to get into trouble with accidental discharges, people walking around with a loaded and cocked weapon, with the safety off, you know those types of things.”

 

Most of KICA’s colleges and universities have students who live off-campus, attend a satellite campus, or study online. The following student numbers are for each school’s main campus:

Baker University, Baldwin City: 1,010

Benedictine College, Atchison: 2,132

Bethany College, Lindsborg: 717

Bethel College, North Newton: 483

Central Christian College, McPherson: 524

Donnely College, Kansas City, KS: 679

Friends University, Wichita: 1,654

Hesston College, Hesston: 428

Kansas Wesleyan University, Salina: 710

Manhattan Christian College, Manhattan: 300

McPherson College, McPherson: 581

Mid-America Nazarene University, Olathe: 1,392

Newman University, Wichita: 1,301

Ottawa University, Ottawa: 617

Southwestern College, Winfield: 673

Sterling College, Sterling: 677

Tabor College, Hillsboro: 594

University of St. Mary, Leavenworth: 700

TOTAL: 15, 172 students on main campuses of 18 private Kansas colleges/universities

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