December 5, 2023

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

State lawmakers unlikely to take up gun control measures

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In the wake of mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly says it’s time to enact “common sense, gun-safety laws.” 

“We have now seen our 251st mass shooting for the year,” Kelly said in a statement last week. “We have seen hundreds of communities ravaged by gun violence, thousands of lives lost and countless others forever changed through the loss of their loved ones.”

She said the shootings marked a “public health crisis.”

“It’s time we do something about this before it’s too late,” the Democratic Kansas Governor said. “It’s time to implement real, common sense, gun-safety laws.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said tightening gun laws might be on the agenda for federal lawmakers when they return to Washington this fall. However, some state lawmakers say Kansans don’t look for background checks legislation or ‘red flag’ proposals to gain traction locally.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, said enacting a new law is unlikely to deter a would-be mass shooter.

“It’s already illegal to kill someone with a gun,” she said. 

Kelly didn’t specify what kinds of gun-control legislation she would like to see, but according to Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, lawmakers are unlikely to consider gun control measures next session.

I think it’s pretty clear what the problem is,” Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, said. “They just had a knife massacre in California. Are they going to start taking knives away too? It’s not the weapons. It’s the people using the weapons. It’s a mental health issue.”

Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins echoed Pilcher-Cook’s sentiments. In an email newsletter, Hawkins said the nation faces a mental health crisis.

“These two shooters had vastly different political beliefs. What they shared were severe mental health issues,” Hawkins wrote.

Kelly used her line-item veto authority to strike $1.8 million in funding for community mental health centers (CMHC) from the state budget.

“In an effort to more evenly distribute reinvestment in Kansas government, I do not believe it is responsible to increase CMHC funding (in 2019),” Kelly said.

A bipartisan majority of lawmakers disagreed, overriding her veto to restore the proposed funding to community health centers.

According to Landwehr, community mental health centers have been neglected for too long. She recalls when the legislature closed the Topeka State Hospital.

“We said the money is going to follow the people. Then we shut down Winfield and said the money was going to follow the people,” she said. “If you pull the data, the money didn’t follow the people.”

She says traditionally, lawmakers and the Governors from either party — have been unwilling to put a focus on mental health.

“You know why? Because you can’t always see it. You can’t see a disability in a person dealing with mental health, so it’s out of sight, out of mind,” she said.

Pilcher-Cook says it’s time for lawmakers to follow the evidence. The evidence, she says, suggests that guns aren’t the problem. 

“We have a history where people used to tote guns around all the time without any kind of oversight and they didn’t have these mass killings,” she said. “It’s not the guns. It’s the culture.”

Hawkins said that Gov. Kelly and other Democratic officials are using the tragedy to call for gun control.

“The answer to these tragedies is not to take away the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves,” he said.

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