An expanded bill allowing people to carry concealed firearms on public university campuses and other locations narrowly passed out of the Arkansas Senate Thursday. Passage came after senators voted to extract the bill from the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, where it had stalled.
House Bill 1249 has undergone a number of changes since it reached the Senate about a month ago. Originally the bill required public universities and colleges to allow faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on campus. It passed easily out of the House of Representatives. But Senators added some training requirements. Subsequently, the National Rifle Association pulled its support for the legislation.
The most recent changes allow anyone who is at least 21 years old and who has a concealed carry license to carry on a public higher ed campus as long as they undergo eight hours of training. The bill now also greatly expands the different locations these concealed carriers can bring handguns, including the state Capitol and some bars. Authors of the amended bill call it a compromise. Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren of Gravette was one of the authors of the new amendment to the bill.
“We don’t all necessarily agree on how is the best way to implement the exercise of the Second Amendment right. And it is a tough thing. But I think we all agree in the end goal which is to keep our kids safe,” Hendren said.
The amendment to increase locations where concealed guns can be brought and the lowering of the age requirement prompted the NRA to return its support. Republican Sen. Jimmy Hickey of Texarkana referenced the watchful eye of the NRA, without explicitly naming the lobbying organization, in his floor speech against the bill.
“I do it at my own expense, knowing that if I decide to run again, it may cause me to work twice as hard. And the funny part is that work will be created by an entity that’s probably sitting in the gallery as I speak, lowering a score that will be dispersed to the public,” Hickey said.
Hickey, who is no relation to this reporter, said he did support a previous version of the bill that limited carrying privileges to faculty and staff and which required 16 hours of training. But he said the current expanded version was careless.
"Never in my wildest dreams, did I ever believe that we’d be considering allowing armed students to sit in classrooms or locker rooms,” he said.
The bill’s detractors also include some conservative Republicans who are generally supportive of expanding concealed carry privileges for more people into more locations in the state. Republican Sen. Linda Collins-Smith of Pocahontas didn’t necessarily view the bill as expansive. With added training requirements, she said the original legislation had been “hijacked.”
“It’s odd that our platform says that we are Second Amendment supporters and that constitutionally we believe that. And what are we voting on if we pass this bill? More restrictions, more mandates on the very people who already have concealed carry licenses,” she said.
Most Democrats opposed the original legislation as well as the newly altered bill. Sen.Will Bond of Little Rock was the lone Democrat to speak against it.
“I think we’ve lost all our common sense on gun issues and now’s the time we say hey, this is a step too far at this time for Arkansas,” Bond said.
The altered bill narrowly passed the 35-member Senate on an 18 to 9 vote. It now goes back to the House, where original sponsor Rep. Charlie Collins says he’ll present it next week.
This post was edited for clarity on 3/10/17 at 12:45pm.