Lowering of concealed carry age requirement, tighter election laws vetoed by Gov. Kelly

Titus Wu
Topeka Capital-Journal
A pistol waits for a shooter during a conceal carry training session the National African American Gun Association held at Crossroads Shooting Sports on Feb. 20.

Gov. Laura Kelly on Friday vetoed three controversial bills being pushed by the majority-Republican Legislature.

The most contentious and impactful of the three was a bill making significant changes to Kansas' concealed carry law. 

For one, adults under 21 years of age would be able to conceal carry. Currently, only those 21 and older are allowed to do so. House Bill 2058 would create a provisional license class for those from 18 to 20 years of age, after which the license turns permanent.

To pair along with that, the bill would also allow the state government to recognize non-Kansans' concealed carry permits from other states, as long as Kansas and the other state are in a reciprocity agreement. 

Both provisions could significantly expand the number of students on college campuses who are able to conceal carry, and opponents had safety concerns about that.

"This dangerous bill puts young Kansans and their families at risk — not only does it let teenagers carry hidden loaded guns in public, it is designed to give people from other states special permission to carry concealed guns in our communities — even those who would be ineligible for a permit in Kansas," said Rep. Jo Ella Hoye, D-Lenexa, when calling for Kelly to veto it.

But Republicans said lowering the concealed carry age requirement is the right thing to do.

"We have 18-year-olds going overseas fighting for our freedom and our safety, and we’re going to tell them when they come back they have to wait one (or two) more years?" said Sen. Richard Hildebrand, R-Galena.

Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed several bills Friday, including one that allowed concealed carry for adults younger than 21.

Kelly dismissed that argument to reporters on Friday, saying firearm regulations on military installations are of a high standard, which might not be the case for regular adult teens.

"Folks have to register there and then they have to store outside ... their quarters. The idea that we just willy-nilly give guns to 18-year-olds because they're serving the military is not true," said the governor. "The other thing is they go through hundreds of hours of training using firearms."

To override her veto, GOP leadership in the Kansas House would have to woo over two to three Republicans who broke from the party by voting against it.

Advance ballot restriction, Gadsden license plates bills vetoed

House Bill 2183 would restrict the number of advance ballots an individual can bring to the polls on behalf of a neighbor, friend or acquaintance. It also would outlaw the practice of candidates carrying ballots on behalf of residents.

Penalties for violating the provisions were softened from a felony to a misdemeanor after negotiations, though it didn't do enough to placate most Democratic lawmakers who opposed it.

While the GOP has called this legislation as doing the most to ensure the safety and integrity of elections, Democrats called it a political stunt.

"Although Kansans have cast millions of ballots over the last decade, there remains no evidence of significant voter fraud in Kansas," Kelly said. "This bill is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. It is designed to disenfranchise Kansans, making it difficult for them to participate in the democratic process, not to stop voter fraud."

Assuming Republicans absent for the vote would have voted for the bill, HB 2183 would need one more "no" vote in the House to be flipped to a "yes" to override the veto.

One final bill Kelly vetoed has stirred some tense feelings in the Kansas Legislature. The bill would allow for the issuance of distinctive license plates, a typical matter except one of them is the Gadsden flag.

The Gadsden Flag, a banner featuring a coiled rattlesnake and the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me,” was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a slave owner. Some Dems critiqued those ties, calling the flag racist and divisive.

Tony Belluchie holds a Gadsden flag during the rally.

Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, said there was no racist intent behind the bill.

"I think that our citizens want to have the ability to say, ‘Don’t tread on me.’ I like my freedom, and I would like for you to support my freedom to choose whatever you want to choose,” he had said.

Sales of the plate would benefit the Kansas State Rifle Association. 

Gov. Kelly said she supported the bill except for the Gadsden flag provision.

"By inserting the Gadsden provision into an otherwise positive piece of legislation, the Legislature ensured a veto," she said. "The Legislature can easily pass and send me the original bill. If they do, I will sign it."

This bill, unlike the other two, passed with veto-proof majorities.