A bill that would force Arkansas public universities and colleges to allow staff members to carry concealed handguns advanced from the Senate Judiciary Committee on a voice vote.
House Bill 1249 revises a 2013 law that let campus officials determine whether to allow staff to carry concealed weapons. All state colleges and universities opted out. If HB 1249 becomes law, state institutions would no longer have that option.
The bill now heads to the state Senate, where it is expected to pass. It would then go to Governor Hutchinson to be signed into law.
Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville), lead sponsor of HB 1249 and sponsor of the 2013 measure, said HB 1249 is about letting an individual concealed carry holder decide whether to bring a gun onto campus instead of a university.
“The ultimate form of local control is individual liberty. And in this case, I think that absolutely applies,” he said.
The bill would not allow concealed weapons in hospitals or daycares attached to a university or in grievance hearings or at large gatherings.
Dr. Charles Welch, president of the Arkansas State University System, spoke against the bill, noting two incidents when active shooter situations did not escalate.
In one, a group of international students making a video were mistaken for shooters. They hid before discovering they had been the ones identified as potential shooters.
“Sometimes it’s not about the shoots that are fired. Sometimes it’s about the shots that are not fired,” Welch said. “Because of great restraint and because of significant training from our campus law enforcement, we were able to avoid any shoots being fired.”
HB 1249 requires no training.
Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, attempted to change that, introducing an amendment that would have required concealed carry license holders who wanted to bring guns on campus to receive 16 hours of active shooter training from the State Police every five years.
“If we’re going to mandate policy, we ought to mandate the best training,” Hutchinson said, “Sixteen hours isn’t enough to handle every situation, but it’s better than zero hours.”
It was voted down.
Collins said that such training was unnecessary because concealed carry allowances would only be granted to employees. He reiterated that students — specifically “young boys, slapping their cowboy hat on, drinking a fifth of whiskey, running around the dorm rooms looking for a gun to shoot somebody” — would be barred by the measure.
Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado), a co-sponsor of HB 1249, said multiple times that “good guys with guns” would be the ones carrying.
When asked by Sen. Will Bond (D-Little Rock) how one distinguishes between a “bad person” and a “good person” in an active shooter situation, Garner said, “The attitude of that person, how they carry themselves, what they were saying, how they were moving — all of that dictates to somebody who is a bad guy and who is a good guy.”
Garner added that during his military experience, while a different situation, “it was pretty obvious."
This reporting is courtesy of the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, an independent, nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans.