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Editorial: University of Kansas Health System needs concealed-carry exemption

The University of Kansas Health System is nearly a city unto itself. There is the main hospital, of course. But there are also spaces devoted to other aspects of health care, including the school of nursing and centers specializing in cancer, brain imaging, life sciences, orthopedics and advanced heart care. A chapel is on the grounds, along with doctors offices, a fitness center, a courtyard and the many parking garages necessary to accommodate all of the people coming and going daily. So it should be no surprise that officials there take quite seriously the security of the many patients, visitors, doctors, nurses, students and others who traverse the complex. Commissioned police officers patrol the grounds, augmented by a staff of security guards on site.

There s even a jail. The response time for the system s commissioned police averages 90 seconds, far faster than what s expected in most neighboring cities. Those highly trained officers need the latitude to perform their jobs without having to determine who is a threat in a tense situation where multiple people might be brandishing guns, albeit some of them well-intentioned good Samaritans.

For this, and a multitude of other reasons, the health system should be excluded from the Kansas law that will allow concealed weapons in state buildings beginning in July. A House bill seeking the exemption is making its way through the Kansas Legislature via the Federal and State Affairs Committee. The proposal is drawing thoughtful debate. The hospital clearly deserves the consideration. As a spokesman noted, the health system is a densely populated campus filled with people who can t run, who can t hide and can t fight. Hence, the acute sensitivity to those patients safety.

The health system has increased the number of commissioned officers it employes in recent years and has enhanced many other security measures as well. Security training efforts, including drills, have also increased for all hospital staff, so everyone is prepared for emergency situations. Considered a health care district by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., the sprawling complex of buildings has more than 100 entrances and exits. To keep guns out of buildings, Kansas law requires additional security measures, such as an armed guard and a metal detector at every public entrance. The costs and disruption to doctors, patients and visitors would be unworkable.

If the Legislature declines to extend the exemption, Kansas risks appearing tone-deaf to the special considerations deemed essential for hospitals in other states, including Missouri. Unless the bill is passed, the health system will become the only hospital in the metropolitan area forced to allow concealed handguns. The distinction would not be a proud one. Even Texas, recognized as a stalwart for the Second Amendment, recognizes the unique challenges of medical centers. The famed MD Anderson Cancer Center allows concealed guns only in restricted areas, generally parking garages. By Texas law, loaded guns are not allowed where patients are treated at the center nor in the surrounding complex of medical buildings. An inescapable challenge for the KU Health System and other urban hospitals is that people who do not respect weaponry may enter as patients or visitors. The health system has instituted a web of security measures with that reality in mind.

Medical centers can be stressful places, where people may become upset by the illness of a loved one or a dire diagnosis. Doctors and other staff are trained to manage such tensions and shouldn t be forced to worry that a firearm might escalate a situation. Also noteworthy is the feedback the health system received from the community it serves. A survey of 500 registered voters in Wyandotte, Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami and Atchison counties was conducted last summer by Public Opinion Strategies. A wide majority, 72 percent of the respondents, said that hospitals should be able to prohibit concealed weapons. A majority of GOP voters polled were also in agreement, as were most men and women, no matter their age.

That s a strong consensus of voters, drawing from areas that are most likely to be served by the medical staff.

Now, the Legislature should heed that guidance and allow the Kansas Health System to prohibit concealed guns.

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