Thursday the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet and vote on whether to allow permitted faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on its campuses throughout the state.
The Arkansas State University Board is also expected to vote on the matter Thursday.
The state legislature recently passed a law that gives colleges the choice, though all schools that have voted so far have opted out of allowing concealed weapons on campus.
All of the Chancellors in the U of A System have recommended against allowing concealed handguns and System President Donald Bobbitt has done the same, proposing a resolution to the system board that would opt out of the law, but Representative Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, who sponsored the legislation, says he is not discouraged.
“What I would say is, the ship of state, much like an aircraft carrier, turns majestically and slowly in new directions,” Collins said.
Collins says he proposed allowing concealed weapons on college campuses, as a deterrent for would be mass shooters. He says the dialogue he is seeing as a result of the law is encouraging.
“A lot of the people that are involved in these decisions in a lot of the universities are actually holding meetings and holding discussions about a more broad topic: the security on campus. So, they’re coming up with different ideas and discussing different things kind of in addition to or triggered by this need to have a vote if a school wants to opt out,” Collins said.
Though he says his aim is to make campuses safer, many in university administrations see it as a safety risk. Ed Smith, Director of Public Safety at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock says, from a law enforcement standpoint, allowing concealed handguns on campus, complicates things.
“What I don’t want to see is an officer be placed in a position by answering a call on campus someplace and find somebody with a weapon who is well meaning, but the officer not be able to identify them, because an officer has to make a split second decision,” Smith said.
UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson has said he is against guns on campus, citing complications for university police as one of his arguments. While administration has taken a stance against allowing guns on campus, views among faculty and staff are mixed and many opinions of those on the fence are complicated.
At a meeting of the UALR Staff Senate last week, representatives discussed whether they should make a recommendation to the board regarding its vote.
Chuck Werninger, who works in Printing Services, feels that allowing concealed weapons on campus will make it a safer place.
“We have a wonderful department of public safety and a very fast response time, but I don’t think they have the ability to protect us from every bad guy who has bad intentions, and I just don’t like that the ability to protect myself has been taken away from me by my employer,” Werninger said.
Nancy Ray of UALR’s Center for Applied Studies in Education was very much on the fence about the idea of letting concealed weapons on campus. She says a mugger killed her Dad, who was, at the time, a security guard licensed to carry a weapon.
“When the guy put a gun to his throat and said give me your wallet and my Dad reached instead into his pocket and pulled out the gun, and it cost him his life,” Ray said.
She says she knows her Dad died that day because he had a gun and tried to use it instead of giving up his wallet, but acknowledges that it’s hard to know if the mugger wouldn’t have shot him anyway. Ray also says she thinks the more people that have guns the more chances there are for someone to be accidentally killed.
“Anybody can have a bad day, have a reaction to some medication and their mind go south, you know, it’s happened to police officers, it could happen to individuals, but do I want to be the one sitting in a room with 30 people that don’t have any protection when that lunatic comes in the door? No. And would I like for someone else in the room to have a gun? Yeah,” Ray said.
Rikki Turner, who works in student housing, says she’s against to law, but if the University doesn’t opt out, she would get a handgun and a permit to carry it.
“Our faculty and staff are fantastic in general, but there are bad apples out there and I don’t know if they’re going to get a concealed carry [permit] or not, and I don’t know their shot, I don’t know anything about them as far as any tendencies are concerned, so just for self protection alone, I would be, yeah, I would be probably one of the first. I feel like that’s where a lot of people are.”
If the UA System Board or the Arkansas State Board opt out, the law says colleges would have to revisit that decision every year if they want to keep their campuses gun free zones.
Representative Collins says he thinks public opinion and that of university administrations will change.
“Now is that a year from now, three years from now, five years from now? I think the way it will happen is much like early adopters with technology. One or two schools will allow the policy to go into effect and then people will see and get comfortable and those types of things, and then, once that happens you’ll start to see the pace pick up. And then there will be a time where, I believe, it will just be normal here,” Collins said.