LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas House voted Thursday to require public colleges and universities to allow concealed handguns on campus, a move that comes after no schools opted to do so following a 2013 law that left the concealed carry decision up to them.
The measure approved by the majority-Republican House on a 71-22 vote requires the schools to allow faculty and staff with a concealed handgun license to carry on campus. The proposal now heads to the majority-GOP Senate.
Republican Rep. Charlie Collins, who had proposed the 2013 law leaving the concealed carry decision up to colleges, said making it mandatory would help deter potential mass shooters and would supplement existing campus security.
“I’m recommending to you that we allow faculty and staff who have a concealed carry permit to carry on campus, not to create more gunfights at the O.K. Corral but to deter some of the gunfights that we might otherwise have,” Collins said before the vote.
If it becomes law, Arkansas will join a handful of states mandating schools to allow concealed handguns. Two states, Colorado and Utah, force colleges to allow all permit holders to carry on campus while seven other states require schools to allow concealed guns in certain circumstances, according to the national advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.
Collins’ proposal exempts the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Clinton School for Public Service, which is located next to former President Bill Clinton’s library in downtown Little Rock. It also would not allow students to carry and would not allow concealed handguns at day cares on college campuses.
Opponents of the measure asked why the current system of allowing colleges to make the decision themselves isn’t working.
“Eventually, one of them I’m sure will vote to adopt it, but at least it will be a decision they have made at the local level, where people know best how to keep their campuses safe,” Democratic Rep. Greg Leding said.
The proposal is opposed by leaders of the state’s largest university systems, who have said the decision should remain with the schools on whether to allow the guns. The police chief for the University of Arkansas’ flagship campus in Fayetteville told lawmakers earlier this week he opposed the ban.
“Our law enforcement officers have told us that this legislation will make their jobs harder and more dangerous in crisis situations, and Arkansas professors have told us that this will change the focused learning environment they’re trying to cultivate in their classrooms,” said Austin Bailey, the head of the Arkansas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he thinks the current law is working fine, but has stopped short of saying whether he opposes requiring the campuses to allow the guns.
The measure is among several gun-rights expansion efforts to be presented to lawmakers months after Republicans made their majorities in the state Legislature larger. The proposals include requiring private employers to allow employees with concealed handgun licenses to keep their firearms locked in their cars at work. Another measure would create a sales tax holiday weekend for firearms purchases.
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