‘Campus carry’ bill receives final OK from Legislature

The long-debated 'campus carry' bill received final approval on Wednesday. Members of the Arkansas House concurred with  each of the Senate's amendments, providing final passage of the bill that will allow guns on any public college or university campus in the state.

House Bill 1249, by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, had been debated in both chambers of the Legislature since it was first introduced in early February. The bill's original intent was to allow the faculty and staff to carry concealed weapons onto campus as long as they had a permit.

Current law, which was implemented in 2013, allows college board members and administrators to opt out. Since then, every public college and university in the state has chosen to opt out. The bill that is now headed for Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk does not give schools that opportunity.

The bill, as amended by the Senate, would expand the right to carry to anyone over the age of 25, as long as they have taken at least eight hours of an active shooter training course that is to be administered by the Arkansas State Police. Such a course does not yet exist.

The expanded bill also allows permit holders to carry weapons into many places they were previously prohibited, including the Capitol, sporting events, bars, courthouses and more. According to the amended bill, concealed carriers are still prohibited from carrying a weapon into K-12 schools, courtrooms, prisons and dorm rooms.

Despite the provision for additional training, college and university representatives still spoke out against the bill.

"We would've liked the law to stay as it was," said Dr. Coy Grace, president of East Arkansas Community College. "We believe the bill that was passed will be quite cumbersome and difficult to implement. There is no outline for how we're to go about this. Are we to set up checkpoints to determine who's allowed to have a gun and who isn't?"

According to Grace, school representatives, as well as school security officials, spoke adamantly against the bill.

"This is certainly not what the college and universities recommended," he said. "A number of security officers testified against the bill, saying that by implementing this into law, their job becomes much more difficult. If there are people legally allowed to have a weapon drawing their guns at the same time a bad guy is, how is a police officer supposed to know who is friendly and who isn't? This opens to door for dangerous mistakes."

Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, also spoke out against the bill. According to Murdock, the expanded version of the bill puts many people at risk due to high tension situations.

"My thoughts on this bill are the same as when it first came up," said Murdock. "And now, it's even worse. Now we're putting guns in places where tensions are so high, like here in the Capitol, courthouses, and others."

According to Murdock, supporters of the bill cited mass shootings in other parts of the country. He said that adding more guns to such situations won't solve an issue that hasn't yet happened in Arkansas.

"One of the only reasons being mentioned in defense of the bill is shootings that happened in other parts of the country," he said. "In each of those situations, the shootings are usually traced back to someone who had mental health issues. Having more guns is not going to fix that problem.

"If there was an incident here in the Capitol, and I had my gun drawn and the next guy had his gun drawn, and the police run in, how are they to know who's at fault," he added. "The people in charge just aren't listening."

Murdock voted against the original and amended bill.

Rep. Steve Hollowell, R-Forrest City, voted for the original and amended bill. According to Hollowell, the bill wouldn't likely have much of an impact on his district.

"Everyone else thought this was a good bill," said Hollowell. "And they said if we're going to force schools to allow guns, we should allow legislators to carry guns, too."

Hollowell said he did not have a concealed carry permit, but would look into getting one.

If the bill is signed by the Governor, it will go into effect on Sept. 1.