TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Public hospitals, mental health centers and other health facilities in Kansas can ban concealed guns without expensive security upgrades after Republican Gov. Sam Brownback allowed a bill to become law Thursday without his signature.
Brownback has been a strong gun-rights advocate but broke with the National Rifle Association and its state allies, which wanted less sweeping changes in the state's concealed carry laws. But the conservative governor also faced strong pressure from hospitals and the University of Kansas Health System.
The governor's struggle with the bill was evident in the message he sent lawmakers. He criticized the bill for restricting gun-owners' rights at public health facilities, forcing them "to subject themselves to greater risk while giving up their right to protect themselves." Yet, he added that it addressed safety concerns at state mental hospitals.
"Because I support the effort to provide state mental hospitals authority to restrict concealed carry in certain facilities, I will not exercise my constitutional authority to veto this bill," Brownback wrote in his message.
A 2013 law required public buildings to allow gun owners to bring concealed weapons inside if those buildings lacked heightened security such as guards or metal detectors. Universities and public health facilities received a four-year exemption that was due to expire July 1.
The new law grants a permanent exemption to state hospitals, other public hospitals, community mental health centers, publicly owned nursing homes and indigent clinics. It also allows the University of Kansas Health System and the university's adjacent medical school in Kansas City, Kansas, to ban concealed guns.
There were cheers at the university health system's hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, when Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore shared the news about the governor's action.
"Yes! It's done!" the Democrat said, later adding, "I can't imagine much better news."
The new exemption does not apply to state universities or colleges, where allowing concealed guns appears especially unpopular, however.
The NRA and its allies wanted a narrower exemption that would have allowed gun owners to bring their concealed weapons into public areas in health facilities while allowing those facilities to ban them in restricted areas. They argued that banning guns in buildings without heightened security would leave people unable to protect themselves if criminals attack.
But public hospital officials argued that they compete against private hospitals that don't allow guns and security upgrades would drain funds away from health care. The university health system said its main hospital would have faced $27 million in extra annual security costs, plus $5 million in one-time expenses.
Even some conservatives who normally support gun-rights measures said an exemption to the concealed carry law was necessary to allow the university hospital to keep its national reputation and retain and attract top-tier staff.
Legislators also felt compelled to address the issue after Brownback proposed spending $24 million over two years on extra security at the state's two mental hospitals and its two hospitals for the developmentally disabled. Administration officials pushed for an exemption and legislators would not spend the money.
In his message, Brownback encouraged legislators to review concealed carry issues again to "find a better balance" between the hospitals' safety concerns and the concerns of citizens "preferring the ability to protect themselves."
"I remain committed to ensuring the right of Kansans to bear arms throughout our state," Brownback wrote.
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