The Senate sponsor of the heavily-amended “guns on campus” bill said Wednesday (Mar. 1) he is close to a final resolution on revisions to the controversial legislation allowing concealed carry permit-holders, including students, to carry a weapon at state colleges and universities.
On Monday, House Bill 1249 sponsored by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, was re-referred back to the chamber’s Judiciary Committee where it was expected to undergo another set of revisions the sponsor hopes will satisfy all parties involved. At the Senate Judiciary panel hearing on Wednesday morning, Committee Chair Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, ended the meeting without any discussion on HB1249, which was on the agenda as a special order of business.
After the meeting, Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, said discussions have moved forward with all parties involved, but no resolution has been reached. At risk is the possible blow-up of legislation that Rep. Collins has worked on for more than four years, including smoothing over five do-overs on the bill in the 2017 session.
“I don’t have anything solid yet, but I think there will be something in the next few days that comes out,” Garner said, not offering any details. “I think it will be a good compromise between (all) sides, similar to what we did before.”
A week ago, the controversial legislation was amended following a committee compromise that would allow any permit holder 25 years or older to carry a weapon on campus after undergoing active shooter training and paying a nominal fee. Those changes to the bill were preceded on Feb. 16 by a training requirement added by Hutchinson, one of the chief negotiators. That revision, which some members said had hostile intent, would have required concealed carry permit holders to obtain at least 16 hours of active shooter training designed by the Arkansas State Police.
The amendment also expanded the list of situations where colleges and universities can prohibit possession of a firearm, including numerous types of meetings, student health and counseling services, and events where the school’s governing body votes to prohibit it. However, Garner attached another amendment last week as a compromise that expanded the permit requirement to anyone 25 years or older, plus students. The original bill and Hutchinson’s amendment only allowed faculty and staff to possess a firearm.
But late last week, the National Rifle Association (NRA) came forward and said it no longer supports the bill because of amendments requiring training and an age limit, and also limiting the places where guns are allowed. Garner said Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, one of the strongest Second Amendment proponents at the Capitol, has floated an NRA-approved amendment that removes the training requirement and some language in the original bill exempting conceal carry permit-holders from carrying a weapon into a library, daycare centers or public meeting on a college campus.
Garner, a former weapons sergeant in the U.S. Army Special Forces, said if no compromise is reached Tuesday (March 7), he would run the bill with Collins-Smith’s amendment removing all training requirements, but not the other original language approved by Collins.
“I think these (amendments) can be added without kind of repressing anyone’s Second Amendment rights,” Garner said.
Still, the South Arkansas Republican admitted he has found himself at the center of a controversy that puts him square in the sights of gun advocates with varying views on HB1249. On one end are Second Amendment proponents backing Collins-Smith, who invited NRA officials to the Senate gallery on Monday. At the other end are concealed carry proponents supporting Gov. Hutchinson, who has insisted that the training requirement remains in the bill.
“I’ve held fast on the training aspect of it,” Hutchinson told reporters on Monday. “This is an Arkansas issue, it is not an NRA issue … although I have great respect and a working relationship with them.”
Still, Hutchinson said he hopes a compromise can be reached in the coming days but also said lawmakers may want to reset and come back two years from now and try again. When asked if he hopes that’s what happens, the governor replied: “Nope, I would like to have a bill on my desk that I like and that I can sign.”