Op-Ed: Kansans deserve responsible laws for our firearms

When I first joined the Kansas Army National Guard at age 20, I was trained to safely use different kinds of high-powered, automatic weapons. Years later as a Sergeant and Captain in the Reserves, I trained hundreds of our soldiers to use these powerful weapons. Our military has the most advanced firearms in the world, but I know how easily they can be misused or accidentally discharged, and how fast they can be fired with devastating results.

Our country has witnessed all too frequently the use of military-style weapons to maim, murder and destroy innocent life. This nation must have a national conversation now that objectively analyzes how to reduce the lethality of the weapons used, and the frequency of these massacres. Guns don’t kill people, but they make it real easy, especially when untrained and unvetted citizens can legally acquire them, buy large capacity, bullet-feeding devices such as banana clips and drum magazines, attach a bump stock, and commence fighting a war in our neighborhood schools, businesses (such as at Excel in Hesston), and places of worship.

As Governor, I will support and sign a law banning from sale in Kansas bump stocks – a device that turns a rifle into an automatic weapon. I will also support and sign a law banning the sale or usage in Kansas of bullet-storage devices that hold more than 15 rounds.

As Governor, I will support and sign a law repealing the permission to carry weapons onto a college campus.

As Governor, I will support additional resources for mental health programs, including expanding Medicaid, with the goal of keeping Kansans safe.

As Governor, I will support universal background checks on every purchase of a firearm in Kansas, with the sole exception of the inheritance or gifting of firearms within a family.

As Governor, I will support and sign a law that repeals the massive unfunded mandate from Kansas legislators in 2014 that required local governments – including small city or county governments without a large tax-base – to allow carrying weapons inside their public buildings, unless they wish to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for full-time security personnel and metal detectors. In Wichita in 2014, it was estimated that it could cost $14 million each and every year to restrict firearms in 107 city-owned buildings. This law must be repealed, unless the Kansas legislature wishes to put money where their mandates are.

As a retired member of our military, I fully understand the role powerful hi-tech weapons play in keeping this country safe. I own firearms and have used them to hunt deer and upland game birds for most of my life. I spent many years as a youth on my grandparents' farm in Oklahoma, and understand that firearms are used by many rural families for protection from rattlesnakes, rabies-infected animals, and to put meat on the table. I will always honor our Kansas hunting and firearm ownership traditions. But we must come together to find responsible solutions to greatly reduce the incidence of these massacres. We must be vigilant in our efforts also to protect our law enforcement officers from devastating firepower coming too easily into the hands of people who can’t be trusted to obey the law. We deserve to live in a nation that is free from fear that our children and grandchildren will be mercilessly attacked in their classrooms, that we will have to shield our co-workers from a stream of bullets, and that we are unsafe when we bow our heads in our places of worship.

A version of this was published in the Kansas City Star on February 27, 2018.