BB gun clubs seek access to Kansas schools
TOPEKA — Organizers of an air gun club in south-central Kansas are urging state lawmakers to pass a bill that would guarantee them access to school facilities to hold their meetings and competitions.
"There are many, many organizations, youth organizations and others, that use school facilities," said Larry Richardson, organizer of the Derby BB Club in Sedgwick County. "We just want to be treated like everybody else."
Richardson said he started the club in 1981, originally meeting in another building in town. But the program became so popular that by 1985 it relocated to one of the district's school gymnasiums. In 30 years of meeting at that school, he said, no injuries or accidents occurred.
But last year, he said, the district changed its policy and said the club could no longer practice at the school. Richardson said he then appealed to the school board, which voted 4-3 to deny his request.
District officials cited the Kansas Weapons Free Schools Act, which not only prohibits possession of firearms on school property but also mandates a one-year expulsion of any student who possesses or discharges a firearm on school property or at any school-sponsored event.
All other states have similar laws that were enacted because of a 1994 federal law that requires states to adopt them as a condition of receiving federal education funds. But that law was later amended to allow exceptions for activities that are authorized and approved by the local school district.
After that, Richardson contacted one of his local legislators, Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, and asked for a change in the law to exempt air guns from the definition of firearms under the act.
House Bill 2468 would not only do that, but would also prohibit school districts from refusing to provide organizations like Richardson's the use of school facilities solely because they use air guns in their activities.
And it would shield the schools from some liability by giving them authority to require students who participate to sign a liability waiver holding the schools harmless for the actions of the shooting clubs.
Kati Thul, an elementary principal in the nearby Garden Plain school district who also sponsors the Sedgwick County 4-H Shooting Club, said she ran into the same roadblock last year when she asked permission to let her group use school facilities.
"I actually submitted a request to use our facilities for the state 4-H shooting match and I was denied for the obvious reason that it was bringing guns into our facilities," she said. "I completely understand my board of education's decision, but I also disagree."
Both Thul and Richardson said shooting clubs teach valuable skills, not only about gun safety, but also about concentration, self-discipline and teamwork, and that they're a positive experience for young people.
Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, was the only person to testify against the bill.
He said the school board group opposed the mandate that districts must allow shooting clubs to meet on school property, saying that is an issue that should be left up to local school boards.
The committee took no action on the bill Tuesday. It is expected to consider amendments and vote on whether to recommend the bill to the full House at a later date.