LITTLE ROCK — A Senate committee on Wednesday advanced a bill to allow faculty and staff of public colleges and universities in Arkansas to carry concealed handguns on campus if they have concealed-carry permits, with no option for schools to say no.
The Senate Judiciary Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to House Bill 1249 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville. The bill, which passed in the House in a 71-22 vote Feb. 2, goes next to the Senate.
Collins was the sponsor of a 2013 law that allows college faculty and staff who have concealed-carry permits to carry concealed handguns on campus, with a provision allowing schools to opt out of the law if their governing bodies choose to. Every institution covered by the law has opted out every year since the law was passed.
HB 1249 would eliminate the opt-out option.
The bill includes exceptions for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, an on-campus child-care facility, a building where a disciplinary or grievance hearing is being held, or the location of a special event that lasts no more than 72 consecutive hours and has a law enforcement presence of at least one officer per 100 people attending or, for an event attended by more than 10,000 people, one officer per 500 people attending.
Presenting the bill to the committee, co-sponsor Rep. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, said it could save lives during mass shootings by reducing the amount of time “between when a bad guy starts shooting and a good guy with a gun shows up.”
Collins told the panel the bill also would deter some potential mass shooters from carrying out attacks on campus.
As he did when the bill was in the House Judiciary Committee, Arkansas State University System President Chuck Welch testified against the bill. Welch told the committee about incidents at ASU’s Jonesboro campus that were resolved by campus police with no shots fired despite initial reports of gunmen on campus.
“Sometimes it’s not about the shots that are fired. Sometimes it’s about the shots that are not fired,” he said.
Anthony Roulette, Arkansas liaison for the National Rifle Association, testified in support of the bill.
Roulette said that every time gun rights are expanded, including on college campuses, opponents say problems will result.
“That hasn’t happened in other states. It’s not going to happen in Arkansas,” he said.
Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, the committee’s chairman, proposed an amendment to the bill that would require a college faculty or staff member to receive 16 hours of active-shooter training every five years, at his or her own expense, to qualify to carry a gun on campus. The amendment did not receive enough votes for adoption.
Speaking against the amendment, Collins said that if it were adopted, “we take a very narrow group of eligible people and make it so narrow and reduced that we’re going to lose our deterrence effect.”
A motion to endorse the bill passed in a voice vote. Rep. Will Bond of Little Rock, the committee’s only Democrat, cast the only audible vote against the measure.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he favors the current law that allows colleges to opt out.