A bill that expands where trained Arkansans can bring concealed firearms is now heading to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk after the Legislature gave its final approval on Wednesday.
By a vote of 71-18, the Arkansas House of Representatives concurred in the final Senate amendment to HB1249. That amendment took what had been a bill allowing employees of state public universities to carry concealed handguns on campuses and extended that privilege to people 21 and up with concealed carry licenses. Those carriers would have to undergo eight additional hours of training. But they would also be allowed to carry concealed firearms into many of the state’s public buildings, including the State Capitol, and into private bars that choose to allow it.
After several changes were made over the last month to HB1249, debate on amendments to the bill in the House was relatively brief. The House had passed a previous version of the bill early in February and had to concur in five amendments adopted in the Senate. Fayetteville Republican Rep. Charlie Collins, the bill's sponsor, took to the House floor to explain a key component of the revised bill, training requirements, to be developed by the State Police.
“Obviously the benefit we have in Arkansas, is that one of the national experts from his work, happens to be our Governor. The Arkansas State Police report to him. So he’ll be able to oversee all that to the degree he wants to get involved,” Collins said.
Collins referred to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s role in a task force the National Rifle Association assembled in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. That task force called for armed and trained guards at schools around the country in order to prevent other mass shootings.
Republican Rep. Karilyn Brown of Sherwood defended this idea by saying she believed bad guys target gun-free zones.
“One of the problems with having these areas where guns are not allowed, concealed or not, is that those are the places that are victimized by the cowards that pull out their guns and shoot many people,” Brown said.
Little Rock Democratic Rep. John Walker and Republican Rep. Kim Hendren of Gravette spoke against the legislation. Hendren, a brother-in-law of the governor, argued the bill’s provision on concealed carry in churches would fail to preserve the anonymity of those who already carry in houses of worship while simultaneously inviting more members of the public to bring guns in.
“I understand this bill the way it’s been messed up down there now is, if I want to keep that situation in my little church and I’ve got to put up a sign there, ‘guns are allowed in here...’ If I don’t put up the sign, guns aren’t allowed,” he said.
Hendren said that requirement would invite people in with malevolent intent.
“This bill needs fixing,” he said.
Rep. John Walker remarked that allowing guns into the halls of government could unnecessarily escalate what are normally civil disagreements or lead to injurious accidents.
“I would hate to have a gun at my age, with my reflexes. And then when Mr. Collins turns around and points it at my face and I pick [my gun] up and I somehow or another don’t aim right and I hit the Speaker,” he said.
Walker went on to criticize what he saw as the underlying motives behind expanding concealed carry privileges.
“There’s just too much fear. And as much fear as we have, then as little reconciliation and progress as a civilized society we can have,” he said.
Gov. Hutchinson is expected to sign the bill. It would take effect on September 1st.