In the state of Kansas, to carry a concealed firearm you need a gun, and a license. That much is clear. Whether you need eyesight or not may not be quite so clear! Following a change in state law, apparently eyesight is not required.
Kansas legislators approved a number of changes to the state’s concealed carry law. One of them was that people who are renewing their license no longer have to take any sort of test to prove they’re still proficient with a firearm. The changes also removed language that gave the attorney general the right to deny applicants a license if they “suffer from a physical infirmity which prevents the safe handling of a weapon.”
A spokesman for Attorney General Derek Schmidt — who oversees the concealed carry program — conceded this week that the office is uncertain whether it has the authority to deny a concealed carry license renewal for any physical reason, even if the applicant is blind.
“We are currently working to determine the intent of the Legislature when this change was made during the 2010 legislative session,” Jeff Wagaman, deputy chief of staff for Schmidt, said.
“From my experience, the people who have a license are people who continue to practice with this,” said George Pisani, a Lawrence resident who is a concealed carry instructor and supporter of the law change. “They are cognizant of the fact that if they ever have to use a weapon to protect themselves that vision is pretty important. I think there is a lot of self-policing that goes on.”
Brian Malte, director of state legislation for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, isn’t surprised by the change. He said he sees gun lobbyists across the country successfully persuading state legislatures to remove training requirements and other regulations related to concealed carry. “I call it the walking, talking slippery slope,” Malte said. “That’s the gun lobby. They set up a system that involves weapon proficiency and testing and then they work bit by bit to repeal each piece of it until it leads to what they have in Arizona, where you don’t even need a permit.”
The change unquestionably has led to an absurd question: Can a blind man legally have a concealed carry permit in Kansas? The Lawrence Journal-World posed this question to the Kansas attorney general’s office after a review of the statutes no longer appeared to contain any provisions allowing the state to factor in a person’s physical ability or proficiency when renewing a license.
A test is still required for new applicants. Those who have never had a license in the state are required to attend an eight-hour class, and to successfully hit 18 of 25 targets from distances ranging from 3 yards to 10 yards. That class and test have been eliminated for people seeking to renew.
Kansas concealed carry licenses are valid for four years. That brings up the possibility that during the four-year period the person’s physical condition has changed to the point that he could no longer pass that test. If a person gets his license when he’s 40, will he still be competent and safe forty years later?, Could he still pass even such an easy test? If he has gone blind, and then sent in his application, would it get renewed?
After about two days of searching the statutes, the attorney general’s office essentially said they weren’t sure. “We appreciate you pointing this out,” they said in a response to the question about a blind applicant.
Although it isn’t likely that someone who is blind will seek to renew a permit, we all know of people who insist they can still drive despite declining eyesight. Replace the car with a gun, and that scenario might be more likely.
What if a concerned person calls the attorney general’s office and says their elderly relative is renewing their concealed carry permit and has Parkinson’s disease to such a degree that they can’t feed themselves, let alone safely handle a gun? Could the state require that applicant to take a proficiency test?
Attorney General Schmidt, before being elected, was a member of last year’s legislature and voted for the changes.
The renewal application does require an applicant to swear to several facts under the penalty of perjury. None of them is related to their ability to safely handle a weapon. That, too, was changed during the last legislative session.
Previously, applicants had to swear that they met all the requirements of a specific section of the state’s concealed carry code. Prior to last year, that section included the clause that affirmed the applicant “does not suffer from a physical infirmity which prevents the safe handling of a weapon.” That language has been stricken from the law.
Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, supported the law changes — Knox is the legislator who plans to introduce legislation limiting the ability of universities and local governments to post “no gun” signs on their buildings. “I have a lot of confidence in the average Kansan,” Knox said. “I think a lot of people who have concealed carry don’t carry that much because they realize the gravity of it. It is a tremendous responsibility. I trust people in general.”
Making any changes to the law now may be tough. The National Rifle Association, which helped craft the state’s original concealed carry law and the most recent changes, said the proficiency issue was overblown.
Jordan Austin, the Kansas state lobbyist for the NRA, said his organization likely would oppose changes that even stopped short of requiring full proficiency testing for renewals. For example, everybody who renews a concealed carry license must go to a Kansas driver’s license office to get their picture taken. All Kansas driver’s license offices have eyesight testing, but Jordan said the NRA likely would oppose any effort to make concealed license holders take an eye test upon renewal. “I don’t ever see that being an idea that we would endorse,” Austin said. “It is not necessary. Why should you be required to maintain some sort of correct vision to exercise a right? You could have left your glasses at home, you could wear contact lenses. It is a subjective standard set by a government agency.”
For the NRA, Austin said, the issue comes down to the Second Amendment. He said recent Supreme Court rulings have affirmed that people have a right to own a gun for protection. He believes that right extends to people being able to carry a weapon concealed, and questions whether concealed carry licenses should even be a part of state laws in the future.
Several states, with Arizona being the most prominent, no longer require individuals to have a license to carry concealed firearms. Austin believes that eventually will be the law in Kansas too. “I see Kansas going in that direction in the not too distant future,” Austin said. “It probably won’t happen this legislative session, but I wouldn’t doubt that it gets considered soon.”