Arkansas panel backs bill requiring colleges to allow guns

LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas Senate panel on Wednesday advanced legislation requiring colleges and universities to allow concealed handguns on campus, rejecting a proposal to make employees who want to be armed undergo additional training.

 

The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed by a voice vote the proposal requiring public colleges and universities to allow faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on campus if they have a license from the state. A 2013 law leaves the decision up to the schools, but no campus has opted to do so. The proposal now heads to the majority-Republican Senate.

The proposal advanced after lawmakers rejected a proposed amendment that would have required faculty and staff who wanted to carry concealed handguns to first receive 16 hours of training to prepare them for active shooter situations.

“There’s a lot of factors that I think deserve special training if you’re going to operate in that type of environment,” said Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who chairs the panel and proposed the additional training requirement.

The bill’s sponsors said the training requirement would render their proposal useless by limiting the number of people who could carry on campus. The lawmakers behind the bill have described it as a way to enhance security at the state’s colleges and universities.

“I fundamentally believe that the time that you can reduce between when a bad guy starts shooting and a good with a gun shows up saves lives,” Republican Sen. Trent Garner told the panel.

The legislation is opposed by higher education officials, including the heads of the state’s largest university systems, who say the decision on concealed carry should be left to the individual schools. The panel on Wednesday also heard from college students who said they would feel less safe on campus if concealed handguns were allowed.

“(The bill) means that if an active shooter were to be on campus, the situation would likely turn worse,” said Dustin Maenaga, a student at Arkansas Tech University. “If many untrained staff and faculty were carrying weapons, it would be difficult to locate and identify who the active shooter is.”

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.

The bill has the backing of the National Rifle Association, but has received a lukewarm reception from Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Hutchinson, who headed a NRA task force that called for trained, armed staff following the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting, has said he’s inclined to leave the decision up to colleges and universities but has stopped short of saying he opposes the bill.

The legislation exempts the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Clinton School for Public Service, which is 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.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

 

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