A bill requiring public colleges and universities to allow their faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on campus easily advanced out of the Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Sponsored by Fayetteville Republican Rep. Charlie Collins, the bill, HB1249, now heads to the full Senate. It was approved by the House of Representatives earlier this month.
In committee, several spoke for and against the bill. Northwest Arkansas Technical Institute President Blake Robertson said the legislation would allow his institution to fill in the security gaps because of a lack of funding.
“We have a wonderful relationship with the Springdale Police Department,” he said. “We have two hours of protection during the morning and we have two hours of protection during the evening. (I'm) not complaining, but that’s all we can afford. We are a soft target.”
Many top administrators from public colleges and universities in the state, including administrators at the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University Systems, have opposed the bill.
It would not allow students to possess concealed firearms on campuses and exempts campuses that are within a half mile of hospitals and presidential libraries. Collins also says existing state bans on concealed firearms at stadiums, churches and bars would still apply.
Arkansas State University System President Chuck Welch spoke against the bill, arguing that higher education campuses should maintain the ability to decide whether or not to allow guns.
“Our Board of Trustees has made the decision to opt out. Now this is not just something that those five individuals decided, that was based on feedback we received from the campus constituencies on all of our campuses,” Welch said.
Both the ASU and UA Systems have chosen not to allow guns on their campuses, an option available under a law passed in 2013. Collins was also the sponsor of that legislation. His current bill removes the opt-out provision.
Collins has argued allowing concealed carry on campuses would add an extra measure of defense in the event of a mass shooting. That thinking has been disputed by opponents, including Collins’ legislative counterpart, Democratic Rep. Greg Leding, who also represents parts of Fayetteville, including the UA campus.
Eve Jorgensen of the group “Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense” spoke against the bill, also challenging the notion that security would increase with the proliferation of firearms held by individuals.
“This bill assumes that ordinary citizens with no law enforcement training would be able to stop a shooter without unintentionally injuring innocent bystanders. We don’t believe that untrained college professors should or are able to take on the role of law enforcement,” she said.
Senate cosponsor Republican Trent Garner of El Dorado said the bill works in the spirit of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. And he argued the ideal of local control should ultimately rest not with a university board or governing body, but with an individual.
“You’re dealing with a fundamental civil right. The choice should not be on this body, it should not be on a university president, it shouldn’t be on a local government. The greatest form of choice should go to that individual,” Garner said
Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, a Republican of Benton, tried but failed to add an amendment to the bill requiring campus concealed carry holders to undergo 16 hours of active shooter training. The bill’s sponsors resisted the amendment and the committee rejected it.
The bill advanced on a voice vote. Democratic Sen. Will Bond of Little Rock voiced the only audible vote against.