Spirited debate evolving over new school gun bill

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Opposition is building rapidly against a new legislative proposal that would remove a major barrier blocking school districts from allowing their employees to carry concealed handguns.

A bill introduced just last week in the Kansas House would require insurers to provide coverage despite reservations they might have about allowing school employees to carry guns.

Social media exploded Friday night as news of the bill circulated, with critics imploring opponents to come out against the legislation, which is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday morning in the House Insurance Committee.

The legislation stipulates that no insurance company could refuse coverage to a school district because it allows its employees to carry concealed handguns unless the decision is “based on sound actuarial principles or is related to actual or reasonably anticipated experience.”

Blake Carpenter

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Blake Carpenter of Derby, comes in response to insurers that have said they wouldn’t cover schools where concealed carry is allowed because it presents a heightened risk.

“Currently in the state of Kansas, school districts have the ability to allow their staff members to be able to conceal-carry,” Carpenter said in an interview Saturday.

“The issue that we’ve seen, though, is that insurance companies have said, ‘We’re either going to jack your rates up or we’re going to cancel your policy.’”

Carpenter’s comments allude to instances where insurers have balked at covering schools that allowed staff members to carry guns.

Five years ago, the liability insurance provider for most of Kansas school districts sent a letter to its agents, saying it would not cover schools allowing employees to carry concealed handguns.

“This policy is making it to where our schools are no longer soft targets,” Carpenter said of the bill. “I’ve had school board members reach out to me saying if (they) get over the insurance hurdle portion, their school board would go ahead and enact concealed-carry policies.”

The bill caused a stir on social media Friday night where there was a lot of chatter rallying opposition to the bill. Among those leading the charge against the legislation was Democratic state Rep. Brett Parker of Overland Park and a teacher.

“Since news of the last-minute hearing broke this afternoon, I’ve been fielding an unending stream of calls, emails and social media messages from teachers, administrators and parents wanting to speak against arming teachers,” Parker said in a text message late Friday.

“I’ll be working all weekend preparing copies of their testimony against this ridiculous bill.”

Brett Parker

The bill attempts to address overall school safety in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a south Florida high school last month. It is similar to one being pushed by House leadership with the gun provision as one of the more marked differences.

Under Carpenter’s legislation, the state Board of Education would be required to adopt statewide standards for securing public schools, including building infrastructure, security technology such as cameras, and communications systems.

The standards, among other things, would cover procedures for securing and evacuating buildings during an emergency as well as training school employees on school safety and security policiTes.

It also would include conducting student drills on emergency situations and ensuring that buildings comply with the security standards adopted by the state board.

The bill also brings back a gun-safety education course that was scrapped earlier in the legislative session because it came up for debate so close to the Florida school shooting.

The legislation requires the state Board of Education to draw up curriculum guidelines for gun-safety education that would include the NRA-crafted Eddie Eagle Gunsafe program for students from kindergarten to the fifth grade.

Gun-safety classes for students in the sixth through eighth grades would be based on the Eddie Eagle program, hunter education classes offered by the Kansas wildlife department or any other “evidence-based program.”  Students in grades nine through 12 could take classes based on the hunter education courses.

Additional training also is offered in the bill – but is not a mandate – for anyone who wants to carry concealed handgun to get a special endorsement from the attorney general that would enable them to carry a concealed weapon at school.

Qualifying for that endorsement means, among other things, taking special training designed for school employees based on guidelines developed by the commission on peace officers’ standards.

Carpenter said the additional certification is not a mandate. “It was just another avenue that school districts could take in order to have increased training for their employees.”

Critics of the bill say one provision scares them.

They think one clause in the bill will make will make school districts legally vulnerable to litigation if they didn’t authorize someone to carry a concealed handgun and a shooting occurs.

They say that will effectively work as a stick. It will force school districts to allow teachers and staff to carry guns while they now can decide that issue on their own.

“This kind of tips the scales toward telling districts that if you don’t do this, you may have heightened liability,” said Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards. “That’s our big concern.”

Carpenter, meanwhile, acknowledged that a district could face that kind of legal action if it didn’t do as much it could to protect its students.

“Basically,” he said, “what I am trying do with that language is make sure all kids are kept safe.”