WASHINGTON – Usually, an individual person does not inspire a member of Congress to propose federal legislation. But when Marti Priest called the office of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison with a gripe, that is exactly what happened.
Priest, who lives outside of Ellison’s Minneapolis congressional district in a Twin Cities suburb, was irked when her college-age son told her that the University of Kansas eventually will allow students to carry concealed weapons on campus. Priest is from Kansas herself. She attended KU and her mother is buried in Topeka.
She says she is not against gun ownership, but she wishes the Kansas state law — passed in that state’s Legislature in 2013 — would have been disclosed when her son, Erik Nelson, was looking at schools.
“My son said if I had known this, I wouldn’t have gone to this school,” she said.
Priest says she has spent roughly $80,000 so far for her son to study journalism at KU. When she pressed the university’s Board of Regents about the concealed-carry law, they told her the new regulation did not require disclosure. The law will take effect on campus next summer.
Inspired by Priest’s concern, Ellison introduced legislation that would require colleges and universities to disclose information on their gun policies on websites and in promotional materials for prospective students and their families.
The bill is co-sponsored by a handful of Democrats, but no Republicans, which means there is a minuscule chance of it passing the GOP-controlled House. Ellison says the measure wouldn’t ban guns from campus, but would require schools to disclose when students are allowed to carry concealed weapons.
Eight states have laws on the books that allow people who are not barred from owning a gun to carry a concealed firearm on college campuses. Arkansas is a ninth, but its law is being challenged in court.
Republicans in the Kansas Legislature have said guns on campus could make the place safer in an active shooter situation. A gun-rights group did not return a call for comment on this story.
Higher-education institutions cannot prohibit the lawful carry or possession of firearms by anyone in or on a parking facility or parking area.
Ellison said he and others are going to press hard for the change, despite the long odds. “We’re going to fight for it, we’re going to push it, we’re going to drive it and who knows what opportunities fall your way.”
Ellison points out that he himself is a gun owner and that he occasionally enjoys hunting. “The idea that if you do one thing like this and it bans the Second Amendment is completely bogus,” he said.
Priest is pulling her son out of KU. Together, they will find a new school where “the gun culture is not authorized by the state government.”
“I don’t know where it’s going to go from here, we have to be working with one another,” she said. “College is a very special time in your life where you can be somewhere and have a free exchange to have a discussion and adding presence of deadly weapons into that mix doesn’t make sense.”