Gov. Asa Hutchinson created an Arkansas School Safety Commission to study how to prevent school violence, he announced in a Thursday (March 1) press conference. He also said he opposed gun control measures such as increasing the legal age to buy a firearm to 21.
Hutchinson said the commission will consider a broad range of issues, including mental health, school counselors, architectural designs, prevention and response capability, and coordination with law enforcement. Calling it an “urgent matter,” he said the commission will issue its first report by July 1 before the start of the school year. Its final report is due Nov. 30. Hutchinson said he expects this to be an “active commission” that visits schools and reviews and assesses security in rural and urban areas. Staffing support will be provided by the Arkansas Department of Education.
The commission will be chaired by Dr. Cheryl May, director of the University of Arkansas System’s Criminal Justice Institute. The vice chair is Bill Temple, a retired FBI special agent.
Hutchinson signed the executive order during the press conference. He made the announcement along with Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. The governor also committed $300,000 in discretionary funds to the Criminal Justice Institute for reviewing school security plans and training school resource officers, who serve as security personnel. He said Arkansas currently has 316 such officers, up from 299 last year, but they cover only one-third of the schools.
Hutchinson and Rutledge both said they oppose gun control measures such as raising the minimum age to buy a firearm to 21. They said many mass shootings have involved people older than that.
“This is not a gun control commission. It’s not addressing school safety from that standpoint. … So the debate will continue. I’ve stated my position that I don’t think that further gun control is a solution to school safety.” he said.
However, Hutchinson said he had been advised by Walmart it would raise the minimum age for all gun sales to 21, an announcement Walmart made this week. Dick’s Sporting Goods also has raised its minimum age to sell guns to 21 and announced it would no longer sell what it called “assault-style rifles.”
“Those are private commercial decisions that is a relationship between them and their customers, and I recognize and appreciate the position that they took,” Hutchinson said. “You have to distinguish that, though, from legislation that would pass and further national standards that would be adopted.”
Hutchinson was at the White House Monday when President Trump discussed mass shootings with the nation’s governors.
Asked about President Trump’s suggestion that schools arm teachers, Hutchinson said he had convened a group of national experts in 2012 to consider options. While the best option is a trained law enforcement officer, some schools may not have the resources to do so or may be in a rural area. That group recommended states enact laws enabling trained school staff to respond to an active shooter. Arkansas did pass such a law, and Hutchinson said 13 Arkansas school districts have those policies in place.
Hutchinson challenged each school district to assess its security plans. He said school facility designs must include security as a priority.
Others serving on the commission are:
• John “Don” Kaminar, Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) special projects and school safety manager;
• Brad Montgomery, ADE director of Public School Academic Facilities;
• A.J. Gary, director, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management;
• Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder;
• Jami Cook, Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy director;
• Will Jones, deputy attorney general, Special Investigations Unit;
• Clarksville Superintendent David Hopkins;
• Dawn Anderson, Hot Springs High School counselor; and
• Vilonia High School teacher John Allison.
Hutchinson said four additional members will be appointed.