The Kansas governor isn’t alone in making a political statement with a stay-at-home order.
Kansas wants people to stay home during the novel coronavirus pandemic – except if they are going to church, buying or selling guns or running a childcare center.
An executive order issued by Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, says that “in these challenging times” the state “will do whatever it can to avoid immediate dangers to the health, safety and welfare of Kansans,” while also ensuring that “essential functions not be interrupted.”
In Kansas’s case, that means letting people go to church (despite federal guidelines urging “social distancing,” a policy the Trump administration on Sunday extended to April 30) and buying guns.
That’s Kansas, which has fewer than 3 million people but 6 million registered firearms, according to USAFacts. More than 7 in 10 Kansans attend religious services, and 37% go weekly, according to the Pew Research Center. But it also reflects the political environment for Kelly, who won an astonishing victory in the conservative state in 2018, says Nathaniel Birkhead, a political science professor at Kansas State University.
“Laura Kelly is in an unusually difficult position. She’s a Democratic woman governor of Kansas,” where President Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than 20 percentage points, Birkhead says.
“She has less leeway to operate than if she were a Republican. She’s working very hard to maintain a kind of friendly image toward Republicans. This was to send a signal, as much as anything else.”
Officials in Kansas’s largest counties have already issued their own, more restrictive guidelines, and many churches have suspended services for the duration of the crisis – meaning the exception might be less relevant, he says. “Kelly can afford to do that (offer the exemptions) while still delivering the goals she has” to limit the spread of the virus in the state, he adds.
Kansas’s policy reflects a hodgepodge of restrictions by states, where rules reflect not just the rate of infection in the state but the culture of the local residents. Several states have explicitly protected gun sales – a move backed up by an updated, nonbinding advisory by the Department of Homeland Security Friday declaring “workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors and shooting ranges” to be part of the nation’s “essential infrastructure.”