Bill restricting guns at sporting events advances after SEC expresses concern

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 482 views 

A bill that would restrict the ability of individuals to carry a concealed weapon into college sporting events, UAMS and the Arkansas State Hospital passed the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, hours after the Southeastern Conference commissioner released a statement saying the bill could affect scheduling and other facets of sporting events.

Senate Bill 724 by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, passed 11-7 and heads to the House. It has already passed the Senate but has been amended.

The bill would restrict the carrying of concealed weapons by permit holders at college sporting events, including games and practices. It also would restrict carrying at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas State Hospital, a psychiatric inpatient facility. It was amended to require those three exempted situations to submit a security plan with the Arkansas State Police.

The vote comes after the Legislature had already passed and Gov. Asa Hutchinson had signed into law House Bill 1249 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, which expanded the public places where concealed carry permit holders can carry a firearm, including universities and the State Capitol, as long as they take an additional eight hours of active shooter training. That bill had taken a meandering path to passage after it originally merely would allow permitted faculty and staff to carry a concealed firearm on a college campus.

Earlier in the day, Greg Sankey, Southeastern Conference commissioner, released a statement calling for athletic events to be exempted.

“Given the intense atmosphere surrounding athletic events, adding weapons increases safety concerns and could negatively impact the intercollegiate athletics program at the University of Arkansas in several ways, including scheduling, officiating, recruiting and attendance,” the statement said. “HB 1249 creates concerns for the Southeastern Conference and its member institutions. It remains our collective desire to provide a safe environment for student-athletes, coaches, officials and fans, and will continue to closely monitor the status of this legislation.”

The National Rifle Association opposed the amendment and testified against it. Afterwards, Anthony Roulette, state liaison for Arkansas, said the association would alert its members and attempt to stop the bill in the House.

“We’ve just got problems with the language,” he said. “It’s just not clean. It’s not precise enough for us. We see a lot of potential for interpretations that would harm law-abiding gun owners. … If you’re going to say that law-abiding citizens cannot carry firearms into the stadium, then you need to put in place security measures that ensure that criminals don’t bring them in,” such as security guards and metal detectors.

He said the language could expand the prohibition to parking lots and adjacent buildings and grounds.

He said the NRA’s political action committee would decide whether the vote would be considered in the score it gives legislators, an A+ being highly coveted by members.

“They’re going to take this vote into very serious consideration,” he said. “It’s a very critical vote for us.”

Hutchinson’s spokesman, J.R. Davis, said the governor supports the bill.

Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, who presented the amendment said House Bill 1249 was “fine the way it was,” but he wanted to be involved in the process of changing it.

He said the possibility of Arkansas losing athletic events was overstated. However, he understood the concerns and thought they were legitimate.