Ahead of a new law taking effect in September that expands places where people can carry firearms, schools that want to prohibit concealed handguns are working with state police to get exemptions.
Institutions seeking to ban concealed weapons from certain areas and events must send a security plan to be approved by Arkansas State Police.
The plan calls for schools to have enhanced security measures in place should they choose to opt out of the bill. One institution seeking to restrict concealed carry is the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.
“We feel very strongly that just as is the case for other hospitals and health care facilities around the state we need to be able to exclude concealed weapons from patient care areas in particular,” said Dr. Dan Rahn, Chancellor of UAMS. However, he says budget constraints do not allow for new mandated security measures to be put in place.
“UAMS’s budget is severely, severely challenged,” Rahn said. “The state appropriation is a tiny fraction of our overall budget, so any new cost that we incur without additional revenue would place additional strain on our ability to provide our primary missions in education, research, and patient care.”
Each school must designate “firearm sensitive” areas of campus where concealed carry would be prohibited. Schools must then implement stricter security measures in those areas to comply with the law.
“The legislation requires certain technology be part of that enhanced security plan, such as metal detectors,” Rahn said. “If we have to have armed police officers at additional doors that are not staffed with armed police officers around the clock today, if we have to lock down certain doors creating limited access only to badged individuals, all of these would involve expenses in both technology and personnel.”
Another institution seeking to exclude concealed handguns is eStem Public Charter Schools, whose new high school is currently being built on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. eStem CEO Dr. John Bacon says a federal law banning handguns from K-12 campuses will override the state’s legislation.
“Federal law prohibits guns in any K-12 school building, and also allows you to set a gun-free zone of a thousand feet from any K-12 school building, We’re working right now to determine exactly what the perimeter of that gun-free zone will be on the UA Little Rock campus.”
Though eStem is not required to submit a safety plan to state police, Bacon says that the federal ban will improve security on campus.
“We take safety of our students and our faculty and parents that are visiting our campus, as a high priority,” Bacon said. “So I’m much more comfortable knowing that our school and that perimeter will be a gun-free zone.”
Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler says his organization will have 120 days after the law takes effect September 1 to enact rules on enhanced training for permit holders.
“But its also coming with some input from the college and universities as we move forward in drafting these rules,” Sadler said. Sadler says his agency is still in the early stages of that process.