State Reps. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, and Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, have different views on the need for altering gun regulations, reforming General Improvement Funds, and the 2018 governor’s race.
Collins, the sponsor of concealed carry legislation on college campuses, and Gray, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics.
In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre that killed 59 people and injured more than 500, Gray said it is past time to talk about gun regulation reform.
“The time has been right before the shooting, the time has been right for a long time,” he said. “You’ve seen the pushback: ’It’s too early to talk about it.’ ‘We’re still grieving from this tragedy.’ But there are still people grieving from tragedies every day due to some kind of violence and firearms. Yeah, we’ve got to talk about it. We’ve got to talk about it reasonably. We’ve got to look at real solutions.”
Gray suggested that universal background checks, prohibiting domestic violence offenders from owning firearms, putting more resources into mental health help would be starting places.
Collins said he’s ever-vigilant when it comes to gun violence and prevention, but he has a different approach than his Democratic colleague.
“It’s always time to review ways to keep the public safe, and I agree wholeheartedly with my colleague that the grief, that period is going to continue to go on, and for some it will go one for the rest of their lives,” said Collins. “I would submit that in Arkansas we’ve actually been leaders on this issue in terms of looking for ways that we can help keep the public safe.”
He cited his successful legislation to allow concealed carry permit holders on college campuses, exemptions to FOI laws to protect security plans, and the re-enforcement of the death penalty in Arkansas.
“We need criminals to understand that if you’re going to murder our loved ones, you’re going to suffer the death penalty, and Governor Hutchinson has put that back in motion in Arkansas, and I think that’s a helpful step as well,” Collins said.
He is undecided on prohibiting bump stocks, while Rep. Gray is open to it. Gray contends that the National Rifle Association (NRA) carries too much influence in gun policy politics, while Collins says he has a higher calling.
“I’m proud to have an A-plus rating,” said Collins, “but my decision-making process when it comes to things like guns and lots of other subjects starts with public safety. That’s actually what I believe my first duty to my constituents is: to help keep them safe.”
Gray said, “I don’t have an A-plus rating because I voted against telling an employer that he had to allow employees to bring guns on his property. I voted against turning our Little League Baseball games and city parks into Dodge City, and I am opposed, like I think most mom and dads out there to just wide-open open carry wherever it goes. So for that reason I don’t have an A-plus, and I think the A-plus coupled with the [NRA] endorsement definitely drives some policy decisions.”
GIF, GOVERNOR’S RACE
The two Arkansas lawmakers also weighed in on the ongoing controversy involving General Improvement Funds (GIF). Two former legislators have been indicted on charges related to misuse and bribery involving GIF. Others are being investigated, and the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled this week that the current system of GIF distribution is unconstitutional.
Gray and the Democratic Party of Arkansas have called on the Arkansas Attorney General and Arkansas State Police to conduct a state investigation outside of the current FBI investigation underway. He said that if the investigation snares Democrats, they should be held accountable.
“Absolutely. This should be no partisan lens there. If there were legislators on either side of the aisle, any party, utilizing general improvement funds that were meant to improve the communities that they represent to line their own pockets, I don’t care what party they’re in. They should be held accountable for it, period,” Gray said.
Collins said, “With regard to law enforcement and whose jurisdiction is where, I don’t understand the particulars there. As you mentioned, the FBI is doing their work, so, if that’s the way to do it, that makes sense. If there’s some other way to do it, I’m wide open to it.”
Collins wants to see GIF wrapped into the context of tax reform saying “the only way to keep 100% sure government is not going to spend the money unwisely, let alone inappropriately, is to allow taxpayers to keep the money in their pocket.”
Gray wants to find a better way to meet the objectives of GIF, which has helped smaller, rural communities who don’t have as much legislative sway. “If a legislator from rural Arkansas doesn’t have a way to help directly improve his community with state funds, I think that’s a problem. Have a board, have a review, have independent commissions, but make it available to rural communities,” he said.
When asked about the Arkansas governor’s race in 2018, Gray said that several people are privately discussing a challenge to incumbent Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
“There are definitely people talking about it, nobody ready to put their name out there yet,” he said.
Collins was asked if Hutchinson would be challenged in a GOP primary by Jan Morgan, a Hot Springs gun range owner and Fox News guest who has hinted at a run.
“Obviously, the beauty of a free country is anybody is allowed to run for any office they choose. I am a staunch, strong, and immovable supporter of Governor Hutchinson. I think he’s a wonderful conservative and doing a fantastic job as governor,” he noted.
Watch Reps. Gray and Collins discussion, including a web extra, in the video below.