Kansas lawmakers debate concealed guns bill after talks fail

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators jumped Thursday into a contentious debate over keeping guns out of public hospitals and mental health centers after the failure of an attempt by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s to broker a compromise between gun-rights advocates and health care officials.

The Senate was debating a bill that is a response to a midsummer deadline to either approve costly security upgrades at the state’s two mental hospitals and its two hospitals for the developmentally disabled or allow concealed weapons into their buildings. Other public hospitals, community mental health centers, some nursing homes, the University of Kansas Health Center and the university’s teaching hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, face the same deadline — as do state universities.

It’s the result of a 2013 law enacted by gun-rights majorities in the Legislature to ensure that gun owners could bring their concealed weapons into public buildings if those buildings didn’t have “adequate” security such as guards and metal detectors. It gave universities, public hospitals and other health care facilities a four-year exemption that ends July 1, and the bill would make the exemption permanent for the public health care facilities but not universities, where the pro-gun policy appears especially unpopular.

Brownback told reporters ahead of the debate that he initiated talks between gun-rights advocates, University of Kansas Health System officials and the Kansas Hospital Association in hopes of brokering a compromise. The conservative Republican governor is a strong gun-rights supporter whose administration nevertheless wants to avoid costly security upgrades at state hospitals. He declined to say what version of the bill he would support.

“I thought we were getting close,” Brownback said. “It just didn’t work out.”

The Kansas State Rifle Association geared up for the debate Wednesday evening by sending an email to its members and supporters, urging them to contact Brownback and lawmakers to push for a narrower bill. It and the National Rifle Association want to ensure that gun owners can bring concealed weapons into some areas in public health care facilities. Private institutions can ban concealed weapons.

But legislators are also facing pressure on the other side. Members of the Moms Demand Action group, wearing red T-shirts and lobbying for what they view as commonsense guns laws, are pushing for an exemption for universities.

Top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature felt compelled to consider a bill dealing with hospitals after Brownback proposed last month that the cash-strapped state spend $24 million over two years on security upgrades at its hospital for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled. Legislators have so far refused to approve the spending.

Gun-rights advocates have enjoyed a long string of legislative victories with Brownback as governor. For example, Kansas no longer requires gun owners to obtain a state permit to carry a concealed weapon.

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