Kansas governor cites competition concerns while vetoing measure for school gun-detection technology

FILE - ZeroEyes analyst Mario Hernandez demonstrates the use of artificial intelligence with surveillance cameras to identify visible guns at the company's operations center, Friday, May 10, 2024, in Conshohocken, Pa. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a measure Wednesday, May 15, that could have earmarked up to $5 million for gun-detection systems in schools while expressing concern that it could have benefitted only ZeroEyes, a firm founded by military veterans which has lobbied lawmakers in various states to adopt its artificial-intelligence technology. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File) (Matt Slocum, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a measure Wednesday that could have earmarked up to $5 million for gun-detection systems in schools while expressing concern that it could have benefitted only one particular company.

Kelly's line-item veto leaves in place $5 million for school safety grants but deletes specific wording that she said would have essentially converted the program “into a no-bid contract” by eliminating “nearly all potential competition.”

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The company that stood to benefit is ZeroEyes, a firm founded by military veterans after the fatal shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

ZeroEyes uses surveillance cameras and artificial intelligence to spot people with guns and alert local school administrators and law officers. Though other companies also offer gun surveillance systems, the Kansas legislation included a lengthy list of specific criteria that ZeroEyes' competitors don't currently meet.

The vetoed wording would have required firearm-detection software to be patented, “designated as qualified anti-terrorism technology,” in compliance with certain security industry standards, already in use in at least 30 states, and capable of detecting “three broad firearm classifications with a minimum of 300 subclassifications” and “at least 2,000 permutations,” among other things.

Though new weapons detection systems are laudable, “we should not hamstring districts by limiting this funding opportunity to services provided by one company,” Kelly said in a statement.

She said schools should be free to use state funds for other safety measures, including updated communications systems or more security staff.

ZeroEyes has promoted its technology in various states. Firearm detection laws enacted last year in Michigan and Utah also required software to be designated as an anti-terrorism technology under a 2002 federal law that provides liability protections for companies.

Similar wording was included in legislation passed last week in Missouri and earlier this year in Iowa, though the Iowa measure was amended so that the anti-terrorism designation is not required of companies until July 1, 2025. That gives time for ZeroEyes' competitors to also receive the federal designation.

ZeroEyes already has several customers in Kansas and will continue to expand there despite the veto, said Kieran Carroll, the company's chief strategy officer.

“We're obviously disappointed by the outcome here," Carroll said. "We felt this was largely based on standards” that “have been successful to a large degree with other states.”

The “anti-terrorism technology” designation, which ZeroEyes highlights, also was included in firearms-detection bills proposed this year in Louisiana, Colorado and Wisconsin. It was subsequently removed by amendments in Colorado and Wisconsin, though none of those bills has received final approval.

The Kansas veto should serve as an example to governors and lawmakers elsewhere “that schools require a choice in their security programs,” said Mark Franken, vice president of marketing for Omnilert, a competitor of ZeroEyes.

“Kelly made the right decision to veto sole source firearm detection provisions to protect schools and preserve competition,” Franken said.

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