Carter Moelk
KU Statehouse Reporting
Proponents of a bill to allow air guns on school campuses told legislators this week that they don’t want their sport to be subject to discrimination.
Supporters of House Bill 2468 believe that while other school-sanctioned outdoors sports, such as baseball or football, are allowed to use school property, students interested in joining gun clubs, such as Daisy or 4-H, are denied that same opportunity.
“All we are asking is to be granted the same opportunity other outside sports have,” said Larry Richardson, former air gun coach and certified gun safety instructor from Derby.
After 30 years of a program that has gone unnoticed and without injury, Richardson, along with Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, are now fighting for the right to keep using school properties for air gun club meetings.
“We’ve never had a problem using our schools,” Richardson said. “We always conducted our meetings when no one was there . . . only us and the custodian.”
Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, was immediately skeptical about the safety of using air rifles on school property.
“I’ve not heard of this type of activity in schools,” Faust-Goudeau said. “And I’m concerned about how school officials can distinguish these guns from more dangerous weapons.”
Both Carpenter and Richardson assured members of the Senate Federal and State Affairs committee that gun safety is a huge component of air gun club meetings.
“These programs are designed to teach kids about gun safety,” Carpenter said. “We walk them through it all and teach them how you handle a gun.”
Richardson said that the guns in his district are kept under padlocked protection until the club meets.
Additionally, Richardson stressed that in the 30 years he’s been teaching, he’s had more than 350 students but no accidents
“Our program is part of a Daisy education program,” Richardson said. “We go through a 10-lesson guide, just like a hunter safety course.”
Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, encouraged the committee to support the bill, saying he believes there are a lot of schools in Kansas that would want to allow this.
“This is a lawful activity,” LaTurner said. “It encourages gun education, and I don’t think anything’s wrong with it.”
Carpenter agreed.
“There are opportunities for students to play this sport across the state,” said Carpenter. “But while Sedgwick County has shooting ranges and facilities specific for these kinds of activities, smaller counties don’t have the space.”
Sen. Kay Wolf, R-Prairie Village, spoke in opposition to the bill, saying she didn’t’ think legislators should decide this matter.
“I think that by ruling on this one activity, we are setting a precedent that Capitol legislators can make every activity allowed on campuses,” Wolf said. “I think the school boards are best to determine this.”
Tom Bruno, a member of the Auburn-Washburn School Board, spoke on behalf of his school district, addressing Wolf’s point and focusing on what’s holding back his school board, and possibly others, from allowing the activity on school grounds.
“Our school board has no problem with the activity of air gun clubs,” said Bruno. “We’re more concerned about the damages possibly done to the property.”
Bruno explained that many schools, including his own district’s, don’t allow any non-school-funded sports to use their facilities because the risk of damage is too high.
Richardson assured the committee that there are liability waivers in place to release the schools from any potential costs.
Committee Chairman Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, moved to hold the bill until members could conduct more research.
HB 2468 has been approved in the House by a 91-27 vote. The Senate hearing continued Tuesday.
Edited by Maddy Mikinski