A South Arkansas senator widely considered one of the legislature’s strongest 2nd Amendment advocates filed the first of several pro-gun bills expected to be introduced during the upcoming 92nd General Assembly, complete with stout backing from Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Senate Bill 15, sponsored by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, would reduce the current nonrefundable license fee to carry a concealed weapon in Arkansas from $100 to $50. For gun owners 65 or older, the lower fee would be halved to $25.
Garner, an attorney and U.S. Army veteran, told Talk Business & Politics that SB15 was the first pro-gun legislation he plans to file ahead of the 92nd General Assembly that begins on Jan. 14.
“This is just the traditional concealed carry fees and the renewals and we are cutting them in half. This is a very simple bill,” Garner said of his one-paragraph proposal.
Garner’s bill is broadly supported by at least 13 senators who have signed off on the pro-gun legislation as co-sponsors, including incoming Senate Pro Tempore Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette. Republican House mates, Reps. Bob Ballinger and Jim Dotson, who were instrumental in drafting SB15, also signed on as sponsors.
In a statement on Monday afternoon, Gov. Hutchinson voiced his support for SB15, personally thanking Garner, Ballinger and Dotson for working with the State Police Department to draft the non-controversial bill that is likely to speed though both chambers in January.
“I appreciate the commitment shown by Sen. Garner and Representatives Ballinger and Dotson on this issue,” the governor said. “Their partnership with my office and the State Police has led to what I believe is good legislation that strikes the right balance in reducing these fees. I fully support their efforts, and if the legislature passes this bill in the upcoming session, I will sign it into law.”
Garner also said that he, Ballinger, Dotson and other pro-gun advocates are working on other 2nd Amendment bills they plan to introduce before the 2019 session begins or shortly thereafter. During the 2017 regular session, lawmakers passed the state’s current concealed carry law sponsored by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, that allows for permit holders with enhanced training to have guns on college campuses and an expanded list of public places in Arkansas.
That measure, now Act 562 of 2017, also added last-minute exemptions to keep guns out of sports arenas, the state hospital and the UAMS campus. The new rules went into effect on Sept. 1, 2017, but State Police officials were given an additional 120 days to design the new training requirements for handgun owners looking to obtain the enhanced license to carry their weapons virtually anywhere.
During the 2018 fiscal session earlier this year, Ballinger and Garner also introduced resolutions to remove the extra training requirements for enhanced concealed carry licenses that would allow Arkansas gun owners to carry their weapons into bars and restaurants, airports, state buildings, the State Capitol and across college campuses and other places.
Ballinger and Garner, both Republicans, were critics of several House and Senate amendments to weaken Collin’s guns on campus bill in the 2017 session, leading to long floor debates on the state’s open carry law and the 2nd Amendment. Under the new law, the new training standards for concealed carry will take up to eight hours to complete.
TEACHERS AND GUNS
For the 2019 session, Garner said he wants to “clean up” parts of the state’s concealed carry law, including clarifying some of the legal language and expanding the legislation to allow teachers the ability to carry a concealed weapon if they choose to do so.
“I don’t want to mandate that every teacher has to do it, but I want to streamline the ability for people to get that commission if they want to,” said Garner, who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army’s Special Forces’ Green Berets unit.
Once the session begins early next year, Garner will lose one of his strongest second amendment allies in the House after four-term incumbent Collins was defeated during the Nov. 6 election by Democratic opponent Denise Garner (no relation), a retired oncology nurse from Fayetteville. However, Ballinger will move from the House to join Garner in the upper chamber after defeating fellow Republican, Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, for the District 5 Senate seat.
To date, nearly 50 House and Senate bills and a handful of resolutions have been pre-filed for the 2019 session since budget hearings ended on Nov. 15. Lawmakers have filed bills on a wide-range of social, fiscal and legislative matters ranging from anti-bullying, internet sales taxes and abortion to open primaries and the elimination of the odd-year fiscal sessions.
By far, Garner has been the busiest lawmaker ahead of the session, sponsoring ten of the 14 Senate bills that have been pre-filed in the last month. Besides SB15, the South Arkansas senator is also sponsoring bills to designate the “Bowie knife” and “shotgun” as the state’s official knife and firearm, respectively.