Kansas university gun case points to potential loophole for criminals in campus carry
Jan. 16–The Kansas Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a onetime Wichita State University student who was arrested for carrying a loaded gun in the lobby of a campus apartment building — an act that is no longer illegal.
But while the issues in the case are largely moot since the Legislature legalized campus carry three years ago, the details point to what could be an unintended loophole allowing criminals who are barred from carrying a gun to get away with it.
Under the current law, police can’t stop and question someone carrying a firearm unless they suspect the person has committed another crime. That means officers can’t check whether a person actually is armed or has a previous conviction making it illegal for them to carry.
While it could be an issue anywhere permitless concealed carry is allowed — which includes almost all public property — lawmakers are most concerned about campuses, because it was a college case that brought the potential loophole to light. Also, unlike most public spaces, large numbers of college students live in daily close proximity with those who may be carrying weapons in dorms and classrooms.
The WSU case started with a tip from a student who reported that a classmate, John W. Bannon, habitually carried a gun, claimed to be with Homeland Security, interrogated other students and used Xanax and morphine, according to court documents.
Two university police officers confronted Bannon while he was reading in the lobby of Wheatshocker Hall, a campus apartment building, in March of 2013. Bannon denied he was armed, but a search found he was carrying a handgun with 15 rounds of ammunition, including one in the chamber ready to fire, according to court records.
Bannon later went to jail for the gun charge and for making a criminal threat against a police officer about a year later.
And he is currently facing two more trials, on charges of threatening law enforcement officers again and leading multiple police agencies on a chase through Wichita that ended in an armed standoff. Those crimes are alleged to have occurred in separate incidents in May and August of last year.
Bannon served eight months for the WSU weapon charge, although his lawyer, Richard Ney, tried to get the sentence reduced in 2015 after the Legislature passed a law making it legal for gun owners to carry their weapons concealed in public without a permit.
"Ironically, the conduct for which the defendant is serving this eight-month sentence — carrying a concealed firearm without a concealed-carry permit — will no longer be a crime in Kansas in a matter of weeks," Ney wrote in a court motion.
Permitless concealed carry took effect July 1 of that year, however, state universities and colleges were given an additional two years to prepare for campus carry. The judge rejected Ney’s request for a reduced sentence.
When he was arrested, Bannon would probably have been in violation of even the current concealed-carry law, because he had a misdemeanor conviction for domestic battery on his record, said Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita and an opponent of campus carry.
But under current law, police wouldn’t be allowed to investigate whether Bannon even had a weapon, unless they had reason to suspect him of another crime, said Carmichael, a lawyer.
"Whether it’s at our universities, or whether it’s anywhere else in public on the streets or otherwise, law enforcement officers have no way to know whether someone carrying a firearm, concealed or unconcealed, is in fact someone (who’s) disqualified from carrying a firearm because of prior convictions," he said. "At some point, we are going to have a tragedy arise because of that."
Carmichael is a gun owner and said he supports the right to keep and bear firearms. But, he said, "there needs to be some reasonable regulation in the interest of public safety."
Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, is a strong supporter of campus carry, but said he’d be willing to vote to tweak the law to separate law-abiding gun owners from illegal gun carriers.
"I hate to take away somebody’s Second Amendment right because we’re trying to maybe possibly prevent something that might or might not happen," he said.
And he said since concealed carry came to college campuses last July, opponents’ predictions of shootouts haven’t come true.
However, Whitmer said the law may put too much restriction on police.
"In this case, Carmichael’s right," Whitmer said. "Under the current law and current situation, (police) may not even investigate because they would say well, unless the guy’s brandishing, that individual has a right to carry a gun and they really would have no legal right to search him."
Whitmer said he could support changing the law to allow police to ask for ID from people seen carrying guns on campus.
"Then they could run a background," Whitmer said. "All (an officer) would have to do would be radio in the ID, and if there’s a warrant or conviction that would come up. … That would be your fix as opposed to banning campus carry.
"I’m sure the gun lobby wouldn’t support it, but it is a reasonable compromise."
However, he said it’s "highly, highly doubtful" the Legislature will engage campus carry this year.
Concealed carry is now legal in almost all WSU buildings, including dorm rooms, apartments and their lobbies, but the decision that went against Bannon was based on the law in effect at the time in 2013.
The appeals court decision came down Friday after years of litigation that went all the way to the state Supreme Court and back.
Wheatshocker Hall has since been razed to make way for the university’s experiential engineering building.
Bannon originally was sentenced to probation for the gun violation, but that turned into jail time when he was convicted of threatening a police officer about a year later.
Ultimately, Bannon would serve eight months for the WSU gun charge and six for the criminal threat, records show.
His current cases involve crimes he’s alleged to have committed on May 27 and August 31 last year.
The May case involves charges of criminal possession of a weapon by a felon and fleeing or attempting to elude police. Bannon surrendered after a police chase and a standoff where he was armed with a Glock pistol, court records say.
In the August case, Bannon is charged with calling in phone threats against police to 911 and two crisis hotlines after he was investigated for driving under the influence in connection with a minor traffic accident, court records say.
The calls, alleged to have been made on Aug. 12 and 13, prompted police to follow Bannon and pull him over. That led to another standoff, although Bannon was unarmed, court records say.
The trials were scheduled to take place this month, but will probably be delayed because Bannon’s lawyer has requested they be combined into a single trial.
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