LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday his thinking on capital punishment has evolved to the point that he would sign legislation to repeal the death penalty if the Legislature sent him a bill.
Beebe also said he would rather see more resource officers in Arkansas schools than an influx of armed volunteers.
The governor’s comments came during an appearance at a meeting of the Political Animals Club at the Governor’s Mansion. An audience member asked Beebe what he would do if the Legislature passed a bill to abolish the death penalty.
Beebe, in the middle of his second and final term as governor after 20 years in the state Senate and four years as state attorney general, said his evolution on the death penalty was personal, not philosophical.
"What caused me to come to that way of thinking is how I felt when I had to sign a death warrant," he said.
Beebe has signed four death warrants since he became governor in 2007, although no one has been put to death on his watch because of pending litigation. He said that signing death warrants is one of the most difficult things he has done.
Beebe said he did not expect any move in the Legislature to end the death penalty.
The debate over whether stationing more people with guns in schools would make classrooms more safe has raged since the Dec. 14 shooting rampage at Shady Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 six- and seven-year-olds and six teachers dead.
Former Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson, who lost to Beebe, a Democrat, in the 2006 governor’s race, is heading a National Rifle Association initiative to put armed volunteers in the nation’s schools as a response to the Newtown tragedy.
Some school districts in Arkansas employ certified resource officers at schools, most in conjunction with the local police department. Neither Beebe nor legislative leaders advocate spending state general revenues to pay for putting officers at all schools. But the governor said Wednesday that certified resource officers are much preferable to armed volunteers.
"I’m not just for getting a whole bunch of folks and arming them and sending them into schools," the governor said.
House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, sided with Beebe in preferring certified officers to protect schools to armed volunteers.
"I think you have to have professionals if you’re going to have people armed protecting schools," Carter said. "(At) the school that my kids go to, I don’t know that I want volunteers roaming around the school carrying guns."
Asked if he expected the Legislature to look for funding for school resource officers, Carter said, "I haven’t heard a lot of talk about that at this point yet."
The House speaker said he supports the death penalty and does not believe there is any interest in the current Legislature in repealing it.