Arkansas Legislators reload for another shot at guns-on-campus law

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 736 views 

Lawmakers are engaged in another gunfight at the State Capitol again after the Arkansas Senate approved new efforts to overhaul a newly-enacted concealed carry law that the National Rifle Association says it now “adamantly opposes.”

The NRA’s change of heart comes only one day after the powerful gun lobby, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and several avowed Second Amendment advocates in the Republican Party effusively praised the signing of House Bill 1249 into law during a press conference at the Governor’s Conference Room.

Although Act 562 is now the law of the land, Senate Bill 724 by Senate Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, which attaches several new revisions to the legislation, was approved Thursday (March 23) by the Senate in a 22-8 vote, with three members not voting. SB724 now moves to the House, where lawmakers have recessed until Monday.

That proposal, which Dismang ran through the Senate Judiciary Committee following the governor’s press conference on Wednesday, includes several new amendments that would exempt the gun owners from carrying a concealed firearm at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), the State Hospital, and collegiate athletic events.

The Dismang amendment would also allow private universities and colleges to adopt a policy to post a “no guns allowed” notice on its premises, and protects state-supported and public universities and colleges from legal claims for monetary damages related to incidents involving a concealed carry licensee.

NRA national spokesman Lars Dalseide said late Thursday afternoon that the Washington, D.C.-based gun lobby supports the original legislation (Act 562) signed into law less than 24 hours ago, and will work to stop SB724 when it arrives in the House Judiciary Committee next week.

“People have the constitutional right to self-defense wherever they are legally allowed to be,” Lars said, adding that SB724 erases some of those rights.

Since the original legislation was filed by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, on Feb 23, the frantic efforts to amend HB1249 caused the NRA to pick sides and pitted many of the legislature’s most avid gun rights proponents against each other. HB1249 has been amended seven times in committee, endured four battles on the Senate floor and approved by the House two times in the space of 40 days before it was finally passed into law on March 15. Under the newly enacted law, concealed carry licensees can carry their weapons at public and state-supported universities along with public buildings, including the Capitol grounds, if they have completed an eight-hour active shooter training designed by the Arkansas State Police.

They also can carry a weapon in places of worship, bars and certain restaurants, unless those establishments post a notice prohibiting guns at those locations. Exceptions include courtrooms and administrative hearings, K-12 public schools, and state prison facilities.

A much different version of the bill passed the House earlier in the session. The original bill allowed only faculty and staff with a concealed carry permit to carry a weapon on college campuses. It eliminated 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.

Dismang’s legislation on the Senate floor Thursday added another amendment after the upper chamber expunged an earlier 22-10 vote that did not fully clarify whether an exemption for “public teaching hospital” could loosely be interpreted to include any of the state-supported colleges and universities that provided health education. The final draft approved by the Senate now states that “a ‘public teaching hospital’ includes without limitation the premises and buildings of (UAMS).”

Gov. Hutchinson and Collins on Wednesday gave tepid approval of Dismang’s eleventh-hour amendment at Wednesday’s press conference. Collins said he originally supported exempting UAMS from the list of state-supported educational institutions that allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons, but that proposal did not make it in the final draft of Act 562.

“I remain open to achieving our main goal, which is protecting the lives of our loved ones,” Collins said.

The effective date of the new law is Sept. 1, 2017, but the State Police Department has 120 days to work out the details and design of the enhanced training program. Arkansas State Police Chief William Bryant said his staff will work with public and private partners to design and promulgate new rules for the enhanced concealed carry program by Jan. 1, 2018.