Law enforcement knows the truth about Kansas gun bill

I’ve had it all wrong, folks. For years I mistakenly believed that the people who are killed and injured by firearms — along with their families, friends and communities — are the real victims of gun violence.

What a big mistake. It’s clear to me now that gun owners are the truly injured parties whenever a mass shooting breaks out.

Won’t you pity them, please?

I’m being ironic, of course. It’s hard not to be, after a Kansas House committee on Thursday heard testimony on the Kansas Gun Rights Preservation Act, a bill introduced oh-so-tastefully the day after Lisa Lopez-Galvan was killed during a shootout at the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl rally.

There was no moment of silence for Lopez-Galvan during the hearing. But there was a lot of righteous outrage — on behalf of gun owners.

“This is such an important topic for responsible armed Kansans. We are demonized and villainized every day,” said state Rep. Rebecca Schmoe, an Ottawa Republican who testified passionately in favor of the bill.

“We’re tired,” she later added, “of being lumped in with criminals because we’re exercising an inherent right.”

The bill would penalize state and local law enforcement agencies in Kansas if they cooperate “in any way” in the enforcement of federal gun laws against “against a law-abiding citizen.” Those agencies could be penalized $50,000 for every violation.

If that bill sounds a lot like the Second Amendment Preservation Act that Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed back in 2021, well, there’s a reason for that: Jered Taylor — a former Missouri legislator now with the American Firearms Association — had a big hand in both laws.

Law enforcement officers, he told the committee on Thursday, shouldn’t be put in harm’s way to enforce federal laws “that Kansans don’t agree with.”

Funny thing, though: The most vocal opponents of the bill at Thursday’s hearing were actual Kansas law enforcement officers.

There were Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter, Bel Aire Police Chief Darrell Atteberry and Col. Erik Smith, superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol. Bob Stewart, executive officer of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation showed up, too.

“We are not comfortable with this bill,” Easter said. “At all.”

Why not? The bill, the law officers suggested, would hinder local cooperation with federal law enforcement authorities on a wide array of investigations — which might, in turn, have “unintended consequences” for the safety of Kansans.

Perhaps more important, though, the officers understandably don’t want to be on the hook for a $50,000 fine over and over again just because Kansas legislators might object to certain federal gun laws.

“Before long,” said Atteberry, “my community is bankrupt.”

State Rep. Michael Houser, the Columbus Republican behind the bill, was unsympathetic. “My guns don’t hurt anybody,” he grumbled. “They’re locked up in a safe.”

The Missouri law, it should be noted, isn’t in great shape. A federal judge overturned it last year. The U.S. Supreme Court in October said Missouri can’t enforce the law while it’s on appeal. Now officials are waiting for a ruling from a federal appeals court to see what happens next.

“If it’s going through court, I think if you’re in Kansas, you want to see how that plays out,” Easter said. Maybe not a bad idea.

The committee took no action on Thursday. But the gun rights advocates who testified on Thursday sounded like they were under siege. Which is odd.

Yes, there’s a lot of anger about gun violence in this country. It doesn’t seem to matter that much. The violence continues anyway. And the gun owners seem to have all the real power.

Which seemed to bother state Rep. Boog Highberger, a Lawrence Democrat. Nearly every mass shooting of the last 20 years, he said Thursday, was committed by a person who was a “law-abiding citizen” right up to the moment they started pulling the trigger.

“I am more interested in protecting the rights of the law-abiding citizens who are being shot,” Highberger said, “than the law-abiding citizens who are doing the shooting.”

We’ll see if the Kansas Legislature agrees.