LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Gov. Mike Beebe said Friday he is likely to sign a bill allowing faculty and staff members at Arkansas' college and universities carry concealed handguns now that the proposal lets individual schools decide where permit-holders can legally take a weapon.
The Arkansas House approved the plan Friday and sent it to the Senate. Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, amended his bill this week to let public schools opt out of allowing concealed weapon permit-holders carry their guns on campus. A similar provision allowing private schools to opt out was already in the bill.
"The fact that they've made it optional for colleges to say 'No, we don't want them on campus,' makes it palatable, so I'm probably going to sign it," Beebe told reporters before the House vote.
Collins said the measure is needed to protect students from shootings on campus.
"If we allow concealed carry holders to be able to carry at work, that we can have a significant deterrent effect for some of these crazies and killers that are putting our loved ones at risk," he said.
But opponents of the measure said allowing guns on campus could be dangerous.
"In the weeks we have been discussing this measure, the faculty, staff and students have spoken loudly and clearly and with one voice in opposition to this bill," said Rep. Greg Leding, the House minority leader. "We have concerns for their safety, but I think their own concerns for their own safety are no less valid."
Rep. David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, said he was concerned that the bill automatically allows for concealed weapons on campuses and that the leaders of individual colleges would have to vote each year to opt out of the law.
The measure is among several that would loosen gun laws introduced after Republicans won control of the House and Senate last year. Beebe, a Democrat, signed a bill this week that would let concealed weapon permit-holders take their guns into churches, synagogues and mosques, though the houses of worship also may opt out.
House members approved the guns-on-campus bill with a 70-11 vote after a number of co-sponsors spoke in support of it. One member voted "present," which has the same effect as a "no" vote.
Collins' initial proposal would have mandated that colleges let an employee carry a weapon if the employee held a permit, but would not extend to staff members who are also full-time students.