Kansas officials resist calls to rewrite gun laws

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Members of Kansas' all-Republican congressional delegation and officials in its GOP-dominated state government are resisting calls to tighten access to firearms following the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school earlier this month.

So far, no prominent Kansas elected official supportive of gun rights has backed away from positions that have brought him or her support from the National Rifle Association. Officials in both Washington and Topeka say they want to examine services for the mentally ill and have expressed concern about what they see as a violent culture.

Gov. Sam Brownback wants to focus on ensuring that the state provides adequate mental health services, and said in an interview with The Associated Press last week that he's worried such a discussion would be cut off by a contentious debate over gun control. State lawmakers are all but certain to consider changes in gun laws during the Legislature's 2013 session -- not to restrict guns, but to expand Kansans' ability to carry concealed weapons into public buildings.

Some GOP officeholders are urging caution, arguing that it's too early to talk about policy changes so close to the horrific events in Newtown, Conn.

Incoming Kansas Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican, said policymakers need "an evidence-based approach and not a reaction."

"We need to think about and pray for the victims and their families and let emotions die down before we consider any significant changes in gun laws," Bruce said.

The Dec. 14 massacre, in which gunman Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother and then 26 people at the elementary school, including 20 children, came two days before two police officers in Topeka were gunned down in a grocery store parking lot as they responded to a call of possible drug activity.

President Barack Obama has demanded "real action" in the wake of the Connecticut shootings, which also prompted interest in reinstating a federal ban on semi-automatic assault weapons and requiring background checks before all gun sales. The NRA instead suggested providing federal funds for armed security in every school, a position the Kansas State Rifle Association strongly supports.

"In the wake of such an unspeakable tragedy, it is natural to raise questions about how and why this happened and what should be done -- but it is clear the underlying issues behind this senseless act of violence involve more than gun control laws," U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said in a statement.

Some Kansans are frustrated by the lack of interest in stricter gun control laws.

Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said while he agrees the debate over preventing mass shootings encompasses multiple issues, gun control should be a part of it.

"We can't just shove it under the rug," he said.

But Moran's comments were echoed to some extent by fellow U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts and U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, both of whom mentioned nation's culture as a serious issue.

"Fundamentally, the problem here is not guns, it's people," Huelskamp said.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder's office did not respond to email and telephone messages seeking comment, but Roberts, Huelskamp and U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins all mentioned mental health services as a key issue.

"We need to ensure all families have access to resources to help prevent mentally unstable individuals from harming themselves or others," Jenkins said.

Roberts said, "I think and many Kansans agree that to ignore a comprehensive examination of mental health policies in America is doing the victims of these mass murders, and the rest of the nation, a disservice."

Meanwhile, legislators in several states have suggested their laws should ensure that teachers and principals can carry concealed weapons into schools. Kansas law generally prohibits concealed weapons on school property, but local officials can pre-empt the ban by declining to post a notice at building entrances.

Last year, Rep. Forrest Knox, an Altoona Republican, advocated legislation to ease the ban on carrying concealed in state and municipal buildings, only to see it die in the state Senate. Elected this year to the Senate, Knox plans to push his measure again.

Knox said he agrees with the NRA that having someone who's armed and properly trained in a school would likely stop mass shootings, arguing that individual cases suggest attackers tend to commit suicide, as Lanza did, if confronted by someone with a firearm.

Knox said that for deterring attackers, "There's something to be said for not knowing who has a gun."

But he said he has doubts about the NRA's proposal, saying some gunmen would simply plan to take out a security officer first.

But Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for Kansas' largest teachers union, objected to turning schools into "armed fortresses."

"I don't want to send my kids up to a place that has to be guarded by someone with an assault weapon," he said.

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