Redo Of Campus Carry Bill Fails For Now, Backers Press On

Mar 8, 2017

The Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR News

Proposals allowing people to bring concealed handguns onto Arkansas public colleges and universities continue to be stalled in the Arkansas Senate.

When House Bill 1249 passed out of the Arkansas House of Representatives on a 71-22 vote last month, the hefty majority indicated the legislation would likely sail through the Senate. But it hasn’t. The bill, which at first permitted only faculty and staff of public universities to carry handguns on campus, has undergone changes. It now bears little resemblance to the original legislation. Republican Sen. Trent Garner of El Dorado is handling the bill in the Senate.

“Anytime you have an emotional bill like this, dealing with colleges, dealing with 18 year olds and plus at colleges, when you’re dealing with guns, it’s always going to create an emotional issue. And I think once the bill was originally changed, then it became a question of what’s the best bill we can make happen. Because it was obvious there were different opinions on it,” Garner said Wednesday.

In its current form, HB1249 requires public universities to allow faculty, staff and students who are at least 25 years old and complete 16 hours of active shooter training to carry concealed firearms on campus. The National Rifle Association recently withdrew its support because of this training requirement. And lawmakers who want a less-restrictive form of the bill sent it back to the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, where it is now stuck. In response, the bill’s backers introduced an amendment to win back the NRA’s support. Here’s Garner again.

“This will expand where people can carry their concealed carry in the state of Arkansas. We’re the ones working forward, to make sure we do other rights. If other Senators have different ideas, that’s on them,” Garner told reporters.

Garner called it “a slam dunk amendment” to HB1249.

“We will not let this excellent bill die in this committee,” he said.

The amendment requires concealed carry license-holders who want to bring guns on campus to complete an eight-hour training course, regulated by the State Police. People who complete the training would be allowed to bring concealed guns into wider array of public buildings, including the state Capitol.

But the amendment, co-authored by Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren, couldn’t get approval from the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The Associated Press reported that Hendren said later in the day that he plans to ask the full Senate to vote on removing HB1249 from the Judiciary Committee so the chamber could then vote to apply the new amendment.  

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Linda Collins-Smith of Pocahontas is leading a competing effort to allow any licensed concealed carry holder to bring a gun on campus without the extra training. She’s trying through an amendment to HB1249 and a separate bill she has dubbed “The True Campus Carry Act.”

“It’s time for conservatives in Arkansas, if they have the majority, if they’re conservative, if they’re Republicans, they should vote to give people their rights back. We have laws to protect people. They would follow the same laws that other people follow and it’s just not rocket science,” she said.

Public university administrators and campus police, who can currently opt out of allowing guns at their institutions, still largely oppose the new campus carry legislation.