The National Rifle Association no longer supports a bill allowing faculty and older students to carry concealed firearms on Arkansas college campuses because of amendments requiring training and an age limit, and also limiting the places where guns are allowed.
The NRA said Tuesday on its Institute for Legislative Action website that it no longer supports House Bill 1249 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville. Before the bill was amended, an NRA representative had testified in committee that the organization supported it.
“Our goal is to make public college and university campuses safer by removing the needless constraints placed upon law-abiding citizens who wish to carry on campus,” Lars Dalseide, a spokesman for the organization, said in an email. “Unless House Bill 1249 is amended to reflect a true campus carry bill, one without excessive mandates and needless restrictions, the National Rifle Association will not support it.”
Collins said he did not intend to make any more changes to the bill, but he would react to circumstances if necessary. He hopes the legislation is at an end point.
“I’m ready to go,” he said. “I think what we’ve got works, and let’s get this moving. Let’s keep the killers away from Arkansas campuses, and I think we’re going to be good to go.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s spokesman, J.R. Davis, said, “The governor supports the ability to conceal and carry on campuses with training, and Rep. Collins’ bill as amended does that.”
A one-word amendment by Sen. Trent Garner, El Dorado, was added to the bill on the Senate floor Wednesday. The Senate will vote on the final bill on Thursday, and then it will return to the House. The bill as originally filed eliminates an opt out provision contained in legislation passed in 2013. Under that law, 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, and many have expressed opposition to the bill.
On Feb. 16, the Senate added a training requirement by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock. The amendment would require concealed carry permit holders to obtain at least 16 hours of active shooter training designed by the Arkansas State Police. The amendment expands 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.
The bill and Hutchinson’s amendment only allowed faculty and staff to possess a firearm. Garner attached another amendment Tuesday as a compromise that would allow any permit holder 25 years or older, including students, to carry a weapon on campus after undergoing the active shooter training and paying a nominal fee.
Collins said that last amendment was needed to increase the number of people on campus with a permit after Gov. Asa Hutchinson had said he wanted a training component.
“I have said from the beginning on this that the key purpose is to deter crazy killers from shooting people on Arkansas campuses, and what that means is, we need, in my view, people there with concealed carry, enough of them, to deter these folks from choosing our campuses,” he said.
On Tuesday, the NRA-ILA website stated that the amendments made the bill unacceptable because of the “excessive training mandates for employees, the patchwork of prohibited places and the significant criminal penalties they carry,” along with the age restriction.
“Rest assured, we will be back every year until the legislature passes and governor signs a true campus carry bill that doesn’t impose excessive training requirements or place arbitrary age restrictions on who can protect themselves on college and university campuses in Arkansas,” the site says.
Collins said he is being contacted by university officials who are “apoplectic” about the bill, and now the NRA has withdrawn its support, but this is the bill that will pass the Legislature.
“Obviously, from the NRA’s statement, they are not viewing this as the gold standard for the United States of America to match up with their position, and I understand that,” he said. “And I understand both the university officials who are speaking out and their point of view, and the NRA individuals that are speaking out and their point of view. … In my view, with the Legislature that we have, this is the best step forward to help protect our loved ones on campus, and I am eager and optimistic and hopeful that we’ll get this done in the next few days.”