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The Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium, the home of the Kansas State University Wildcats, will soon be getting costly security upgrades to keep firearms out. [William Purnell/Icon Sportswire]

Campus Carry

New Campus Gun Laws Have Colleges Shopping for Metal Detectors. For Big Schools, the Bills Are Eye-Popping.

Plans call for ponying up $1 million — and that's just for the football stadium.

Sports stadiums and hospitals will be among the last remaining gun-free areas at public colleges and universities in Kansas and Arkansas when new laws governing firearms on campus go into effect in those states. But the sanctuaries are going to come with hefty price tags.

The campus-carry laws in Kansas and Arkansas go further than those in other states by requiring schools that want to continue to prohibit firearms in certain facilities to install security measures, including metal detectors and barricades.

Officials at three Kansas universities have estimated the cost of updating their primary athletic venues at more than $2 million. That estimate does not include the cost of staffing the new security checkpoints.

Public colleges in Arkansas have yet to release cost projections for the security apparatuses they will be required to buy in order to keep their stadiums and arenas gun-free. But an independent security consultant contacted by The Trace put the price tag of outfitting the University of Arkansas’s flagship stadium with metal detectors at nearly $500,000.

School officials in the affected states say the upshot of the policies are clear: If universities want to prohibit guns in sensitive spaces, they’re going to have to find a way to absorb significant new costs.

“That is no joke,” said Breeze Richardson, spokesperson for the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees 32 colleges and universities in a state that has curtailed public funding for higher education. “The university system has been cut by $75 million over past three years.”

Starting July 1, anyone over 21 will be allowed to carry a firearm onto university grounds in Kansas. It is set to become the first state where both campus carry and so-called permitless carry are legal. Gun owners will be able to bring guns onto campus even if they have not obtained a concealed-carry license, a process that entails eight hours of training.

Kansas’s campus-carry law says that public colleges that want to prohibit firearms in designated buildings after the law goes into effect must install “adequate security measures to ensure that no weapons are permitted to be carried into such building.” The law spells out “adequate” to include both metal sensors and the personnel to staff them.

Institutions under the umbrella of the Kansas Board of Regents maintain more than 800 buildings.

The largest of those buildings are sports arenas, many of which also serve alcohol. The University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Wichita State University are home to prominent Division 1 athletic programs whose football teams play in stadiums that hold as many as 50,000 spectators each. Accordingly, university leaders have made athletic facilities their first priority as they scramble to keep guns out of the bleachers while ensuring that their schools are also in compliance with the pending law.

On April 19, the Kansas Board of Regents accepted proposals from those three universities for installing security measures at their stadiums. 

Wichita State was granted approval for up to 20 mobile metal detectors at an estimated cost  of $72,000.

Brad Pittman, the school’s associate athletic director, sees the expense as less a product of the new law than an emblem of the times.

“It’s not uncommon to go to a large sporting event and go through a metal detector,” he said. “It will have a financial impact as we start up, but we made the decision that this was the right thing to do.”

Kansas State University in Manhattan got the go-ahead for 70 mobile detectors for its two sports stadiums, as well as two other event halls and the campus art museum. After the meeting, an official from the school’s athletic department estimated the cost at $1 million.

The University of Kansas’s plan calls for purchasing the necessary equipment to secure events with anticipated attendance of 5,000 or more. Jim Marchiony, the university’s associate athletic director, said his department also anticipates costs running into the seven figures.

“We think it is very important,” Marchiony said of upgrading security. “Our first priority at sporting events needs to be the safety of fans and coaches and athletes.”

Also underway at the University of Kansas, according to attorneys for the school, are plans for  preserving the gun bans in place for child care centers and certain areas of the university’s medical center in Lawrence.

The schools are taking on the added costs even as state rollbacks to higher education funding have them contemplating academic cuts and possible tuition hikes of up to 5 percent.

Richardson, the spokesperson for the Board of Regents, said funding for security equipment at stadiums would likely come directly from athletic departments, which are less reliant on state support because they generate revenue from ticket sales and private donations.

 “With careful budgeting and careful spending,” Marchiony said, “we will be able to do this without disadvantaging any of our existing programs.”

Kansas’s campus-carry law was passed in 2013 as part of a broad bill to allow guns in public places. While the law went into effect months after it was signed, universities were given a lengthy extension to comply. An effort by Democratic lawmakers to permanently exempt universities failed this spring. Higher education officials in Arkansas, by comparison, have had far shorter notice. Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, signed his state’s campus-carry law on April 4, and it will go into effect on January 1.

The campus-carry law in Arkansas sparked turmoil after an earlier version that opened all campus areas — including stadiums — to concealed guns. Facing outrage from constituents and officials worried about the prospect of sanctions from the Southeastern Conference and National Collegiate Athletic Association against the University of Arkansas’s sports teams, legislators quickly passed an amended version of the law.

The final statute incorporated an opt-out provision similar to that of Kansas: public colleges that want to keep “firearms sensitive” areas gun-free have to pay for security features and have a safety plan approved by the State Police.

Nate Hinkel, a spokesperson for the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, the state’s largest public college, said the administration has not yet drafted a proposal for adding security measures at the Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, which seats 72,000.

While the University of Arkansas prepares its plan, The Trace sought a ballpark figure (as it were) from Jeff Miller, who serves as executive vice president of New York-based MSA Security and formerly advised National Football League teams on venue safety.

He estimated the costs for equipping Razorback Stadium with metal detectors at upwards of $450,000. He arrived at that figure by following the general protocol of allotting one metal detector per 1,000 attendees. A going rate for a walk-through detector is around $6,500, though Miller noted that prices vary by manufacturer.

Though Idaho’s 2014 campus-carry law does not mandate metal detectors for gun-free facilities, Boise State University took the step of installing them anyway.

The 54 metal detectors it purchased for its 14,500 capacity football stadium ran $250,000, according to John Uda, the university’s assistant director of event security.

Setting up and staffing the machines costs $20,000 per game. Renting tents to cover the metal detectors runs another $3,500. The barriers that corral fans as they wait to be screened add another $2,500.

“If you’re going to do it, do it right,” Uda said.

He had a prediction for his counterparts in Kansas and Arkansas when the first full invoices arrive.

“They’re in for a shock,” he said.