KU Medical Center Grapples With New Conceal And Carry Law

Mar 9, 2016

The University of Kansas Medical School says it will hire more police officers when conceal and carry on campus is allowed next July.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

July 2017 may seem like a long ways away, but when you’re planning to allow guns on college campuses, it might as well be just around the corner.

How Kansas colleges will comply with the law allowing guns on campus while maintaining security is complicated.

But it’s perhaps most complex at the KU Medical Center and the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas.

Since Kansas lawmakers passed a bill that would allow almost anyone to carry a concealed gun on college campuses, we've been hearing the arguments against it.

Students are too immature to carry guns, theft is a problem and faculty would feel unsafe debating controversial topics in class.

At the sprawling and growing medical center on 39th and Rainbow, they have all those worries and more.

"There are concerns in a high stress, high risk environment like health care," says Medical Center Executive Vice Chancellor Doug Girod.

KU Medical Center Executive Vice Chancellor Doug Girod speaks to the Kansas Board of Regents.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The law allows institutions to ban guns but only if they provide metal detectors and security guards.

That’s not only prohibitively expensive but almost impossible to achieve at the medical center complex.

It's easy to see why as you walk around the campus. From 39th Street you can see a dozen doors leading into the med center book store and a court yard in between buildings. Turn around and look north and there's the medical library. Just down the street is the busy emergency room.

Almost 7,000 students and staff and hundreds of more patients and family members pass through those doors and dozens of others around the complex every day. Once through the doors, they enter a maze of hallways that connect classrooms, offices and clinics.

So Girod says he is worried. "We have some vulnerable populations that are harder to protect. I mean, we’ve got patients stuck in a hospital, they aren’t going to get up and flee. We have children. We have pregnant mothers. The spectrum is very broad so healthcare is certainly a unique environment."

How unique? Some doctors say conflict is part of the job.

"But there’s a lot of confrontation that happens in health care," says Allen Greiner, a family medicine doctor who has been on the faculty for 18 years and is a native Kansan. "Between groups of patients, inside of families, between providers and patients. Between providers and providers."

He says guns are probably already being carried into the hospital, but he thinks this could make it even more common and gun accidents more likely.

Erin Corriveau is an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the KU Medical Center. She says she would consider quitting when conceal and carry is allowed next July.
Credit Erin Corriveau

He’s not alone.

Erin Corriveau joined the faculty about a year ago and is also a family doctor.

She has nothing but praise for KU Med and Kansas City.

But inviting more guns on campus, she says, may drive her and others from KU.

"I think a lot of faculty members will consider moving on if this is enacted," says Corriveau. "I don’t think this is smart for Kansas. I don’t think this is the best thing for the health of our population."

Most faculty and staff across the state agree with Corriveau.

A recent survey from the Docking Institute at Fort Hays State University showed 70 percent of faculty and staff at Kansas Regents institutions oppose the new conceal and carry law.  Eighty-two percent said they would feel less safe with armed students on campus.

So there is push back and even a bill that would reverse the portion of the law allowing guns on campus.

But all of it is mostly falling on deaf ears in Topeka. "Do you need security? Then you better get it," says state Sen. Forrest Knox, a Republican from Altoona and one of the leading gun advocates in the Legislature.

He says his daughter is an emergency room nurse at Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri and her experiences there just reinforce his thinking that everyone should be able to defend themselves.

"If you don’t provide security then you shouldn’t deny the public’s right to provide for their own," he says. "That’s the logic of the bill, okay, and nothing has changed in that whether it’s a hospital or not."

Knox says he’s willing to listen if KU Med Center officials want to restrict guns in the ER or patient rooms.

For their part, officials say they will probably hire more police officers to patrol the 41 acre complex and may post security at the library, restricting guns in that building. 

But short of turning out conservatives in the November election, nothing appears to be able to stop conceal and carry from coming to Kansas campuses.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR. He's also co-host of KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.