One of the more controversial pieces of legislation to be debated this session will likely be the bill allowing concealed weapons to be carried on public college campuses and universities by licensed college staff and faculty. Click here to read the bill.

For many people, the proposed bill raises a valid concern of allowing weapons on college campuses leading to unexpected and potentially dangerous problems. Personally, one of my problems with the bill is one of fairness, meaning why is it fair that under this bill the 21 year-old college staff member can carry a concealed weapon, but the 24 year-old graduate student cannot?

Sadly, it is most often the students who are the victims of violence on campus, but under the proposed bill they would not be allowed to carry concealed weapons, even if they met the age limit and licensing requirements needed to receive a concealed weapon permit.

State Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayettville) is the lead sponsor of the bill and it currently has 29 House co-sponsors.

I asked Rep. Collins a few questions about his proposed bill. As you’ll see, my questions centered around the issue of fairness and allowing students to protect themselves. Here is our complete interview:

Cook: What is the reasoning for not allowing students to carry concealed weapons on college campuses if they fulfilled all the licensing requirements?

Collins: When I first proposed my campus carry idea to protect people on college campuses from crazy killers back in the Fall of 2010, I did not plan to forbid including students because of the underlying premise of your question: if you have earned a concealed carry permit, you can be trusted to handle the responsibility on campus just as you can in a store or on the street.

As I listened intently to the feedback from the folks in the Fayetteville/Springdale area, along with feedback from those beyond this region as the discussion progressed, I heard one consistent concern with my idea. The concern can be best summarized as a fear that students might shoot each other in dorm rooms (perhaps after drinking alcohol or fighting or whatever). This was consistently the top issue of virtually every group or individual that came to me with concerns (including people that wrote to the newspaper). So I wanted to make sure we didn’t have an idea where people were very concerned about a new danger. That’s why I limited my bill to faculty and staff, because of the feedback I received from the people. I came to the conclusion that, while my campus carry idea was received positively in general, there was enough genuine concern about allowing students to carry on campus, that my current bill is the best first step forward for Arkansas.

My goal with this bill is to help us better deter killers from choosing college campuses, filled with our loved ones, as a place to turn into a killing field. HB 1243 will make college campuses safer by detering bad guys with the presence of responsible, armed good guys. I believe my bill will deter killers from attacking our colleges because if we allow a professor to carry, campuses will no longer be as vulnerable as they are today. Since I believe many of these murderers plot and scheme before moving forward with their plans, I believe making the college campus less attractive as a killing zone will deter at least some of these sociopaths. I also believe we’ll benefit from a “protective” effect as any armed concealed carry holders can protect unarmed people should, God forbid, a shooting spree occur on an Arkansas campus. Saving lives is the genesis of my idea to allow concealed carry on campus.

We can accomplish much of the desired benefit of deterring crazies from choosing our college campuses and accommodate fixing the number one problem people expressed with my proposal. This approach (and my explicit ban on guns stored in dormitories by anyone, even non-students) is designed to ensure we haven’t done anything that will make it easier for the stereotypical drunk 18 year old boy on campus to get his hands on a weapon. Of course, only 21 year olds are allowed to get concealed carry permits and then only after passing a course on the responsibilities associated with the privilege, demonstrating proficiency with the weapon, background checks and other requirements.

I want to address the genuine concerns people have raised in a way that doesn’t eviscerate our ability to save lives. This bill represents a compromise, I know. My similar bill in the last session (HB 1479) failed narrowly in committee, so I know the change I’m proposing is already a bold step forward. While no system is perfect, I believe my bill best balances the goal of saving lives with the concerns of some Arkansans on how we implement this policy.

Cook: Why does this bill allow, for example, a 24-year college staff member to carry a concealed handgun, but a 24-year old graduate student cannot? How is that fair to the mature graduate student?

Collins: I believe that change can happen incrementally. It enables all of us to learn and course correct as needed. If everything goes as well as I expect with my bill, then we can look at relieving concealed carry restrictions even further down the road. We could make the example in your question even more extreme. As you know, there are a large number of young men and women currently enrolled in college in Arkansas who recently served our country in combat. Should that 24-year old, honorably discharged, combat veteran be allowed to carry as long as they have the proper permits and qualifications? After all, we have already entrusted them with the lives of their comrades-in-arms and the defense of the country. I think most voters, upon reflection, would agree that they should. However, many people hear ‘campus’ and ‘firearm’ and think of the proverbial drunk 18 year old boy.

Cook: Under this bill, college staff and faculty can defend themselves with concealed weapons, but why are students not allowed to defend themselves from violence on campus? The example of a UALR student tragically abducted and murdered in 2011 comes to mind when asking this question. Could her abduction have been prevented if she had been allowed to carry a concealed weapon?

Collins: Great points. Leadership requires balance. Arkansans want to move forward, but in a measured way, ensuring we focus on continuous improvement while we listen to those that disagree with us. This helps us make sure we’re doing the right thing the right way. I am not opposed to the ideas you suggest, but am willing to move forward one step at a time and watch the progress happen together with you. Is this bill perfect? No, at least in the sense that every member in the legislature would change it some way if they had the sole power to do so. But good legislation is the result of discussion, thought, negotiation, and cooperation among those who disagree in some fashion. I think most members will agree with me that this bill represents, at this moment in time, the best path forward to improve the safety of Arkansas’ campuses.

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Michael Cook
Michael Cook is the moderator for his opinion blog, Cook's Outlook. He can be reached by e-mail at Michael@CooksOutlook.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mcookAR or on Facebook: facebook.com/CooksOutlook.