The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

October 16, 2010

Kansans to decide gun, voting rights

JOPLIN, Mo. — The rights of gun owners and people with mental illnesses will be decided by Kansas voters next month.

Two amendments seeking to clarify language in the state constitution are on the Nov. 2 ballot, referred to voters by state legislators. One amendment would establish that Kansas residents have an individual right to own a gun; the other would take away legislators’ authority to deny voting rights to the mentally ill.

State Rep. Doug Gatewood, a Democrat from Columbus who approved both measures when they went through the Kansas Legislature, said the amendments, if approved by voters, wouldn’t necessarily change anything. They would instead provide constitutional protection of gun ownership and voting rights, which are already part of Kansans’ everyday life.

The amendments seem to have garnered mostly support over the past few months. Because their approval would have no real effect, opposition seems to be scarce.

The guns issue can be traced to a 1905 Kansas Supreme Court ruling in the case of City of Salina v. Blakesly, where justices upheld that a man convicted of possessing a firearm did not have the individual right to own a gun. The court ruled that “the people’s right” to bear arms was a collective right. Only standing militias were entitled to have firearms and only to be used in defense of the state.

But for generations, Kansans have owned rifles, shotguns and handguns. And in June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Chicago handgun law, declaring that Americans have the right to own a gun for self-defense regardless of where they live.

Gatewood said the amendment is a reinforcement of the rights that are already promised to Americans through the federal Constitution.

The second question on the ballot would remove language in the constitution that gives the Legislature the authority to deny voting rights to the mentally ill, along with convicted felons and individuals in prison. Kansans changed the section of the law in the 1970s when the constitution was last updated on a grand scale, but left the mental health exception.

Rick Cagan, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Kansas, said it’s time to update the language to constitutionally protect the rights of mentally ill individuals.

For more on this story, pick up a copy of today’s Joplin Globe or register for our E-Edition here at joplinglobe.com.

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