LITTLE ROCK — A House committee Tuesday advanced a bill that would allow concealed handguns to be banned at college athletic events and a few other places if approved security plans are in place.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill on the same day that the Southeastern Conference issued a statement asking the Arkansas Legislature to exempt athletic events from a newly approved law expanding the places where concealed handguns may be carried.
In an 11-7 vote, the House Judiciary Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to Senate Bill 724 by Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy. The bill, which passed in the Senate last week, goes to the House.
The bill would amend Act 562 of 2017, formerly House Bill 1249, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law last week.
Act 562 allows a person with a concealed-carry permit who completes eight hours of additional training to obtain an enhanced permit allowing him or her to carry a concealed handgun into several places where guns previously were banned, including state colleges, airports, polling places, athletic events, most state offices and the state Capitol.
The Arkansas State Police is expected to have the new training program in place in January.
SB 724, as originally filed, would exempt college athletic events, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas State Hospital, which is connected to UAMS, from Act 562. On Tuesday the House Judiciary Committee amended the bill to make the exemption not automatic.
The amendment offered by Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, with Dismang’s support, would allow concealed handguns to be banned at a college athletic event, UAMS or the Arkansas State Hospital if a security plan is submitted to and approved by the Arkansas State Police.
In the case of an athletic event, the institution hosting the event would have to submit a security plan at least five days before the event.
On the same day the committee advanced the bill, the SEC said in a statement:
“It is our desire to see athletic events and sports venues exempted from HB 1249. Given the intense atmosphere surrounding athletic events, adding weapons increases safety concerns and could negatively impact the intercollegiate athletics program at the University of Arkansas in several ways, including scheduling, officiating, recruiting and attendance.
“HB 1249 creates concerns for the Southeastern Conference and its member institutions. It remains our collective desire to provide a safe environment for student-athletes, coaches, officials and fans, and will continue to closely monitor the status of this legislation.”
Several people testified against SB 724 in commitee, including Anthony Roulette, state lisaison for the National Rifle Association, who said it is too broad and could be interpreted to allow parking lots at stadiums and arenas to be exempted from Act 562.
Dismang told the committee that if the bill’s langauge is too broad, it can be fixed.
After the meeting, Dismang said his priority in filing his bill was protecting the safety of people who attend college athletic events.
“I think the compromise that was reached through the (amendment) ensures that that safety is provided for those individuals attending those games and those events,” he said.
Ballinger said he believes Act 562 is “fine” the way it is, but he said he decided that if it was going to be modified, he wanted to be involved. He said he was not bothered by the NRA’s opposition to SB 724.
“I love my A-plus with NRA. I wish I could keep my A-plus with NRA. But I came down here to legislate,” he said.
If the bill passes in the House, it will go back to the Senate for concurrence in the House amendment.