LITTLE ROCK — The House on Thursday approved a bill that would modify a newly enacted gun law to allow the banning of concealed handguns at college sports events and a few other places if state-approved security plans are in place.
House members voted 71-20 to approve Senate Bill 724 by Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy. The bill passed 22-10 in the Senate on March 23 and now goes back to that chamber for concurrence in a House amendment.
The bill proposes changes to Act 562 of 2017, formerly House Bill 1249, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law on March 22.
Act 562 will allow 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 will develop the training program, which is expected to become available in January.
A provision in the law allows an enhanced permit holder to carry a gun at a bar, church or private college unless signs are posted announcing that guns are prohibited.
The law will not allow guns to be carried into courtrooms, K-12 public schools, public prekindergarten programs or facilities of the state Department of Correction, the state Department of Community Correction or a building on a college campus where a grievance or disciplinary hearing is being held.
Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, who sponsored HB 1249, presented Dismang’s bill on the House floor Thursday. He said that after HB 1249 was passed, he made a discovery.
“I knew there were no (Southeastern Conference) regulations or rules against what we were doing,” he said. “But what I didn’t understand was how important that was going to be to SEC officials, people involved in sports, people that make decisions about where championship games are played and tournaments are held, how important it could be to people that are athletic recruits and associated individuals involved in that.”
The SEC issued a statement Tuesday calling on Arkansas to exempt athletic events and sports venues from the state’s newly expanded concealed-carry law.
SB 724 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.
The bill also would add day-care centers to the list of places handguns could not be carried and would allow bars, churches and private colleges to ban concealed handguns without having to post signs announcing the bans.
Several House members spoke for and against the bill. Rep. Justin Gonzales, R-Okolona, urged a vote against the measure, saying it was his understanding that “there is an amendment out there” that would bring more parties on board, an apparent reference to the National Rifle Association’s opposition to the bill.
Speaking in support of the bill, House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, told the members there is no “perfect” bill for them to approve in place of SB 724. He said any problems with the measure can be fixed in a future session.
“Over half of the bills we deal with every session are to fix the stuff that we didn’t get right from the previous session,” he said.