LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ public colleges and universities could allow staff to carry a concealed handgun on campus under legislation that a House panel endorsed Tuesday.
The House Education Committee unanimously approved House Bill 1243 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville.
"In my view we have a significant problem in America, and the problem I’m talking about the number of crazies and killers that select college campuses to kill our loved ones," Collins said in presenting his bill to the committee.
The panel approved an amendment to the measure which would allow trustees of public colleges and universities to decide in an annual vote whether to allow guns on campus. It also would allow the board to restrict concealed handguns to certain parts of campus.
Speaking against the measure was Greyson Teague, a senior at Hot Springs High School, who said he worried that when he attends college he might feel intimidated by an instructor who he learns has a concealed weapon.
"The idea of one of my professors, who I do not know on the first day going in, having a gun kind of scares me," Teague said.
"It might make me fear my professors," Teague added, which he said could create a "detrimental" environment for him and other college students.
Joseph Youngblood, a student at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and a supporter of the bill, said crime would drop if criminals knew that some professors and staff at colleges and universities were concealed permit holders and were carrying weapons.
He said most mass shootings occur at locations where people are not allowed to have weapons.
"This debate has nothing to do with criminals carrying guns to campus," he said. "Concealed carries are far more law abiding than the general population, as well as being far less violent. The overwhelming body of criminalogical study conclusively demonstrates that concealed carry is safe and makes society safer."
Chris Campolo, a philosophy professor at Hendrix College in Conway, spoke for the bill, saying that a professor at the University of Utah, where concealed weapons are allowed on campus, told him that having guns on campus was not a concern.
"This is not something that we need to be afraid of," he said, noting that many people have concealed-carry permits and "I don’t think I see people walking through Wal-Mart afraid, or in my grocery store, or at the gas station."
Everywhere else concealed carry is allowed, people get on with their business responsibly, he said.
The bill goes to the House.
Shane Broadway, interim director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, said after the meeting that state institutions of higher education favored the option of being able to opt out of allowing guns on campus if they so choose.
"While I understand that there are strong concerns among our colleges and universities regarding guns on campus, it is my understanding that as amended to allow for local decision-making, our institutions are not opposing the bill," Broadway said.
Gov. Mike Beebe said he wanted to discuss the issue with Broadway and get more details on who he talked to before giving his opinion on the bill.
Beebe did say he liked it better with the amendment allowing colleges and universities to opt out.
"Oh yeah. Much more than I would have been if they’d just legislated that campuses were wide open to guns. I would not have liked that," the governor said.