Revised Campus Carry Bill Up For A Vote In The Arkansas Senate

Feb 26, 2017

The floor of the Arkansas Senate on Thursday, Feb. 23.
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR News

A bill requiring public universities to allow faculty, staff and students 25 years or older to carry concealed firearms on campuses may be coming up for a vote Monday afternoon in the Arkansas Senate. HB1249 is on the calendar after being amended in recent weeks to include provisions requiring additional training and extending concealed carry privileges to some students.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Republican Trent Garner of El Dorado, said the amendment process has been “a good collaboration” between leaders in the Legislature.

“If this was my bill all the way, I’d probably add some changes to it, but I’m only one member of the multiple branches of government,” Garner told KUAR. “I was happy to see the Governor [and Senate leaders] get on board with this. I thought it was a reasonable compromise….so the whole process overall I think is good. We made a better product because everybody was involved.”

A recent addition to the bill was an amendment introduced by Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson of Benton requiring people who choose to carry handguns on campus to also undergo 16 hours of State Police-regulated active shooter training. Hutchinson has argued the requirement would be helpful because concealed carriers would know how to better react in the event a mass shooting suspect were to attack a campus.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Republican Rep. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville has said his primary aim is to protect against a potential mass shooter by allowing people with concealed weapons to respond to an incident more quickly than campus police.

Collins and Garner initially opposed Hutchinson’s amendment. In response, Garner introduced an additional amendment granting concealed carry privileges to public university students who are at least 25 years old. That change resulted after the sponsors held meetings with Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Sen. Hutchinson and Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren. Both Sen. Hutchinson and Sen. Hendren are nephews of the Governor.

“I thought that compromise was good. I think everybody felt good about it to a certain extent,” Garner said.   

The 16-hour training requirement has led the National Rifle Association to withdraw its support for the bill. Last week, Garner resisted an amendment proposed by Republican Sen. Linda Collins-Smith of Pocahontas that would have extended campus concealed carry privileges to anyone with a state-issued license. On the Senate floor Thursday, Collins-Smith attempted to send the bill back to Judiciary Committee where it could be amended. The effort was voted down.

The bill is still opposed by most university administrators in the state, including top administrators at the Arkansas State University System and University of Arkansas System. The head of campus police at the UA Fayetteville, the state’s largest public university, has spoken against the bill in committee and the bill is also opposed by Democratic Rep. Greg Leding, who represents the Fayetteville campus.

Opponents have generally argued that allowing more guns on university grounds would increase the likelihood of accidents. They also point to views held by many students and faculty at public universities who are uncomfortable with the idea of classroom scenarios where firearms are present.

An earlier version of HB1249 passed out of the Arkansas House of Representatives earlier this month.