LITTLE ROCK —So far, colleges and universities are opting out of a law that would allow faculty and staff with concealed carry permits to bring weapons on campus.
The sponsor, Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, says he’s not surprised that higher education institutions are not taking advantage of the new law, but he says he’s pleased the issue is being discussed on campuses across Arkansas and believes eventually schools will opt in.
"It’s unfolding as I would have expected," Collins said. In "three years, five years, seven years, you’ll start seeing some going in that direction. I think over time things are going to change — change is slow," he said.
As of Friday, five four-year schools had opted out of the law for the 2013-2014 school year — the University of Central Arkansas, Harding University, Henderson State University, Hendrix College and the University of the Ozarks. Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville and East Arkansas Community College in Forrest City also have decided against participating in the law.
Trustees of the state’s two largest university systems — the University of Arkansas System and the Arkansas State University System — are to decide this week whether to participate or opt out of Act 226, adopted during the recently ended legislative session.
As originally written, the legislation would have required public colleges and universities to allow faculty and staff members who have concealed handgun permits to carry guns on campus. Facing opposition, Collins amended the bill to allow institutions to decide in an annual vote whether to allow guns on campus.
Collins said he filed the bill in response to recent school shootings around the country, which he said were due in part to perpetrators being aware that campuses are "gun-free zones."
"I believe we can deter a lot of these incidents nationwide by allowing concealed-carry holders to carry on a campus," he said before presenting the proposal to the House Education Committee in February.
Gov. Mike Beebe signed the legislation after school officials dropped their opposition when Collins made the provisions optional.
The new takes effects May 30, 90 days from the day it was signed into law.
The UA board meets Thursday and Friday at UA-Phillips County Community College in Stuttgart. UA spokesman Ben Beaumont said System President Donald Bobbitt has been getting feedback from the chancellors at the five four-year schools and five two-year schools within the system.
UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson said he hopes the board votes to opt out of the new law. He said lawmakers adopted the legislation even though it was not requested by college or university officials.
"They’re doing this for the campuses and none of the presidents and chancellors have asked for the legislation, which is a little bit unusual," he said. "None of the presidents and chancellors thought it would make their campuses safer, or make it any easier for us to do a good job of maintaining the tranquility of the campus."
Anderson said he has discussed the law with other chancellors and college presidents, and said "a good number of us" fear that more guns on campus, even though concealed, would make safety issues more complicated and campuses less safe.
"If you’ve got more guns on campus … you create a much more complicated environment for law enforcement to function in, and then in addition to that, you increase the odds, the statistical likelihood, that a gun will be used in a certain way, maybe even with good intent, but used in such a way to wound or kill innocent people, or more people than might have been affected otherwise," he said.
Anderson said he and Henderson State University President Glendell Jones were ready testify against Collins’ bill during the legislative session but did not after the measure was amended to give colleges and universities the option to opt out.
Jeff Hankins, a spokesman for the ASU System, said university trustees will consider Act 226 at their meeting Thursday in Jonesboro.
"Our chancellors on all four system campuses — Jonesboro, Beebe, Mountain Home and Newport — are recommending to ‘opt out’ of the concealed weapons law," Hankins said.
ASU-Jonesboro Chancellor Tim Hudson said he would "recommend that our campus disallow the carrying of concealed handguns."
"My decision is based on feedback from all our constituencies — students, faculty and staff. Additionally, our university police department contends that this is in the best interests of the safety of our campus," Hudson said.
Hankins said a decision to opt out of Act 226 has been supported by ASU’s Faculty Senate, Student Government Association, Staff Senate, Dean’s Council, Chair’s Council and Graduate Student Council.
Calvin Johnson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff said an informal survey of faculty found that the majority oppose adding guns to campus..
"The bottom line is they oppose it," he said, adding he has discussed the issue with Bobbitt. "The bottom line is the faculty prefers not to have guns and I support that."
Paul Beran, chancellor of UA-Fort Smith, declined comment, saying he would let the UA board make the decision.
The Southern Arkansas University Board of Trustees is to discuss the issue June 20, SAU President David Rankin said last week. He said the university’s Faculty Senate and Staff Senate both support opting out of the new law.
"I will probably make a recommendation to the board, and at this point I’m leaning toward the opt out," Rankin said. "We have a very professional police force here."
Rankin said the board’s decision would not only affect the university’s main campus in Magnolia, but also SAU Tech in East Camden, the Airframe and Powerplant School in Texarkana and the Arkansas Fire Training Academy and the Arkansas Environmental Training Academy.
Rex Nelson, president of Arkansas Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents 11 four-year-schools in the state, said he was "not aware of anybody that’s not going to opt out."
Ed Franklin, director of the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges, which represents 22 community colleges, also said he was unaware of any institutions that planned to allow faculty with concealed permits to carry a weapon on campus this fall.
When UCA board voted to opt out of the law earlier this month, the vote was 5-1.
Board member Kay Hinkle said she voted against opting out because she believes faculty members with concealed carry permits are properly trained.
"I believe in the Second Amendment, and anybody who is a law-abiding citizen who is trained to carry a gun should be able to do so," Hinkle told the Log Cabin Democrat newspaper in Conway. "I think it’s their right to be able to do that."
UCA students, in a campus-wide poll, supported the new law, while staff and faculty at the university supported opting out of the law.