A bill requiring the state’s public colleges and universities to allow concealed carried weapons by faculty and staff passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday (Feb. 15).
House Bill 1249 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, has already passed the House and now goes to the full Senate. The only committee member who voted no on the voice vote was its lone Democrat, Sen. Will Bond of Little Rock.
The bill would eliminate an opt out provision contained in legislation passed in 2013 and also sponsored by Collins. Under that law, public higher education institutions could allow their staff members to carry a weapon, but they also could opt out of allowing them to do so. All of the state’s colleges and universities opted out.
The bill includes a number of exceptions where guns could not be carried, including at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Clinton School of Public Service. Exceptions for all higher education institutions include formal employee grievance hearings and special events if enough law enforcement officers are present.
Students would not be able carry a firearm on campus, and guns could not be stored in dorms by anyone or carried in a college day care center. The bill would not change existing law, which says concealed weapons cannot be carried into bars or sports venues.
Senators rejected an amendment by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, that would have required concealed carry permit holders to obtain 16 hours of Arkansas State Police training. The cost would be born by the permit holder. Only Hutchinson and Bond voted for the amendment.
Among those speaking for the bill was Anthony Roulette, state liaison for the National Rifle Association, who said the bill would enhance public safety. Also speaking for the bill was Dr. Blake Robertson, president of Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale, whose school is specifically included in the bill to allow employees to carry a concealed weapon on campus. His institution otherwise would not be able to allow staff members to carry a weapon. Robertson said he has made the changes he can make under state law to enhance safety but needs this additional tool. A former police officer, he said 12-15 people on campus would be able to carry, and he would ensure they have training.
“I am very aware that I am responsible for 300 lives,” he said, “and as we’ve talked earlier, within just a few seconds a series of projectiles can be sprayed over a room.”
Among those speaking against the bill was Dr. Chuck Welch, president of the Arkansas State University System, who said his board of trustees had opted out of allowing permit holders to carry weapons on campus after discussions with various constituencies. He described two recent incidents on the system’s Jonesboro campus. In one, campus police responded to the situation in two minutes and one second. In another, four individuals were mistakenly deemed to be dangerous. Both situations ended peacefully.
“Sometimes it’s not about the shots that are fired. Sometimes it’s about the shots that are not fired,” he said.
Eve Jorgensen with the Arkansas chapter of Moms Demand Action also testified against the bill, saying it would make Arkansas one of few states to force colleges to have guns on campus. She said Arkansas campuses already are safe and that there is no evidence that Collins’ bill would make them safer.
In presenting the bill, Collins said the bill’s purpose was to deter killers from committing mass murders on campus. He said campus shootings occur often and are not random; instead, the killer plots the crime in an attempt to inflict mass casualties in order to air grievances. The possible presence of concealed weapons could be a deterrent to those individuals, he said.
Collins said the chance of accidental shootings would be minimized because the statute only applies to individuals with Arkansas concealed carry permits, and the state permitting program is good.
Senate co-sponsor Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, said during his two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Special Forces, he had learned that people become more passive when they are a target, and so would shooters who threaten college campuses if confronted with an armed civilian.
“I’ve been shot at. I’ve been in firefights, and I can tell you from my training, from my experiences, there’s a distinct difference between a person who is not being shot at and a person who is,” he said.
Under questioning from Bond, Collins said campus police agencies would be able to determine which individuals on campus have concealed carry permits and could include that knowledge in their training programs. When Bond asked how responding law enforcement officials would know the good guys from the bad guys, Collins said the same situation already exists in other environments such as malls.
After Bond asked if the next step is to require open carry on campus, Collins said, “That’s not my next step,” explaining that part of the deterrence is the fact that shooters don’t know who has a concealed weapon.
“I have no plan in the works to say we’re going to move from concealed carry on campus to open carry on campus,” he said.