Kansans to vote on gun ownership amendment

The Wichita Eagle | March 29, 2009

TOPEKA | Next year, Kansans will vote whether to change the state constitution to guarantee individual gun rights.

“It is the law of the land today in every state. They (supporters) would like to make sure it stays that way in Kansas,” said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican.

Supporters of a resolution that passed the House and Senate say the move is needed in case the U.S. Supreme Court ever decides that the Second Amendment does not protect individual gun ownership. In 2008, the court ruled that the Bill of Rights covers an individual’s right to own firearms.

Before that Supreme Court decision, some lower courts had ruled that the intent of the Second Amendment was to tie the right of gun possession to militia service, such as a state National Guard unit, rather than an individual’s right to own a gun.

Scott Vogel, spokesman for Freedom States Alliance, called the fear that the courts or the current presidential administration might take away people’s guns “a phantom issue” and said lawmakers would have been better off focusing on more pressing issues.

The alliance works with grassroots organizations across the country to prevent gun violence.

“There is no wisdom that somehow people are not going to be able to get a gun. I mean, this is America,” Vogel said.

Sen. Mike Petersen, a Wichita Republican and one of the resolution’s top supporters, said he was surprised to learn that Kansas did not protect individual gun owner rights.

“I think a lot of voters thought that they already had this right, but they don’t,” he said.

Currently, the Kansas Constitution guarantees those rights for “the people.”

A 1905 Kansas Supreme Court decision said that gun ownership is a collective, not an individual, right. The proposed amendment would give the right to each person.

The resolution, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1611, cleared the Legislature last week. The matter will appear on ballots in the November 2010 general election. The resolution garnered strong support in both chambers, including from many members who typically vote against expanding gun rights.

If approved by voters, the measure would replace the phrase “the people have the right to bear arms for their defense and security” with “a person has the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and state, for lawful hunting and recreational use, and for any other lawful purpose.”

“It’s a technical fix to bring us in line with what most believe is a right we already have,” Petersen said.

While the distinction of “the people” versus “a person” might not seem like much, “it is a critical word,” said Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, which has about 2,000 members.

When President Barack Obama took office, fears began to surface that the administration would try to restrict gun rights.

“It has put firearm owners kind of on alert, and everyone is kind of waiting for something bad to happen,” Stoneking said.

Changing the state constitution would be “something that is really greatly needed to quell some of the worry,” she said.

Amending the constitution requires the approval of a simple majority of voters.

Vogel did not think the change would hurt the efforts of groups such as his to stop gun violence.

The new language would not affect the state’s ability to perform background checks before guns could be purchased, restrict the sale of some types of firearms or restrict certain people from owning firearms, he said.