'Campus Carry' Is Now Law In Kansas, But Student And Faculty Anxiety Remain

Jul 3, 2017

After years of anticipation, and a final round of heated debate in the state legislature, "No Guns" signs finally came down at Kansas college campuses Saturday. The state's new so-called "campus carry" law went into effect July 1.

The law allows nearly anyone 21 years and older to carry a concealed gun into nearly any campus building, except for buildings with security measures like metal detectors in place. (This exception includes prominent venues like Allen Fieldhouse.) 

The state's public two- and four-year colleges and universities, including the University of Kansas and Johnson County Community College, have implemented their own policies designed to inform faculty and students of the new on-campus weapons policy.

Dan Robles, crime prevention officer at JCCC, said in an email that the school will increase its police presence and building security measures.

Although proponents of the law say it will make campuses safer, some KU faculty remain uneasy and say they are taking additional steps to deal with the law in their classroom.

Ron Barrett-Gonzalez is a professor of aerospace engineering and president of KU's chapter of the American Association of University Professors. He says he will allow students in the fall to opt out of attending class if they are fearful of guns being present. Instead, they can complete classwork online. 

"There are understandably quite a number of students who are concerned and the faculty wishes very much to honor or observe their concerns," he said. 

Barrett-Gonzalez was active in lobbying legislators this past session in Topeka for continued exemptions to the state's impending concealed-carry law for colleges and hospitals. In order to adjust to student uncertainties he plans to offer online versions of all his classes in the fall. 

Barrett-Gonzalez said other professors will also be making changes especially in large lecture halls. In an interview with the University Daily Kansan Cécile Accilien of the African and African American Studies Department said the policy will decrease her ability to push her students in discussions. 

“At a conscious and subconscious level, I think it will be very hard for me to be the same passionate teacher that I was this past semester,” she told the campus newspaper. 

Barrett-Gonzalez said he is particularly concerned about the effect the law will have on research labs. He said that many research areas, the first rule of labs is "no guns." With guns now allowed, he said researchers are considering switching their lab work to involve less experimental materials and more computer-based analysis. 

"The idea is that if a flammables cabinet is shot, or if a propane cylinder is shot, or a can of aviation gas is shot that's going to blow up and catch fire but if your computer gets shot it's just going to sit there and spark a little bit," he said. 

He said he and his colleagues have received relatively little guidance in regards to weapons in labs. He is currently working with other professors to gain permission to restrict guns from labs. 

During debate over the law this past legislative session in Topeka, Rep. Michael Houser, Republican of Columbus, said restrictions  on college campuses and in hospitals violate the gun owner's rights. 

“When we pass legislation like this or put placards on doors, you’re basically taking away that person’s right to self-defense,” Houser said.

Lawmakers did eventually approve exemptions for public hospitals

Barrett-Gonzalez, however, said allowing guns at KU could cost the university money and risk decreasing its standing among other universities, including the loss of it's membership in the Association of American Universities. This could also come as a result of students and faculty who are pushed away from the university as a result of the policy. 

"It will erode the level of scholarship that would be inherent in the University of Kansas," Barrett-Gonzalez said. "If we fall off the [AAU] list we will probably never get on it again in my lifetime."

In 2015, the Docking Institute surveyed faculty at the six Kansas Board of Regents Universities on gun laws: 61 percent of respondents said allowing concealed guns on campus would affect their decision to work at a Kansas college.

Some faculty members from K-State, KU, and Wichita State have resigned in recent months citing the law as their motivation.

Katie Bernard is KCUR's morning news intern.