UPDATE: The bill passed out of committee and it’s on to the full House. There were five No votes — they didn’t announce the final tally of the roll call, but a legislator in attendance said that he believed it was 12-5.
See below for some real-time coverage earlier today. David Koon is at the Capitol and will have more shortly.
Rep. Charlie Collins bill to to force public universities and colleges to allow staff members to carry concealed handguns is running in the House Judiciary Committee this morning. You can watch a livestream here. David Koon is on the scene and will have more. I’ll update this post with developments and highlights as the meeting unfolds:
Collins, known for logorrhea, is still presenting his bill. He says that his bill will help prevent mass killings. “Not a panacea, but an additive,” he says. He then offers a long description of the profiles of mass killers that sounds like a voice-over on an hour-long drama. I will say, Collins has put a lot of thought into how he believes crazed killers think. He’s convinced that these mass killers may choose not to go on campuses if his bill passes. “We can realistically have a deterrent effect on some — not all — of these people who seek to murder our loved ones on campus,” he says.
Collins says that becoming a concealed carry permit holder involves sufficient screening and training. “You’re not allowed to get a concealed carry permit to be a cowboy,” he says.
Collins says he has children at Arkansas colleges. “My goal is protecting our children at Arkansas campuses,” he says.
Big crowd assembled. Many activists opposed to the bill, including the Moms Demand Action group, on hand. Also reportedly every major university and community college leader on there to express opposition.
Rep. Clarke Tucker points out that all colleges and universities oppose the policy that Collins deems to force upon them from the Capitol.
Regarding local control, Collins said that the real local control was the individual gun holder.
University of Arkansas Police Department Chief of Police Steve Gahagans spoke against the bill. He said that campus law enforcement in the state was united in strongly opposing the bill.
KOON’S UPDATE: Collins opened by reading out a list of dates, schools, and dead and injured in campus mass-shooting events. He said those events indicated there is a major problem that legislators should do everything they can to prevent. While Collins told the committee that “only an absolute fool” would consider an average citizen with a concealed carry permit a substitute for a trained police officer in a shooting situation, the presence of concealed carriers on campus might influence the behavior or shooters and cause them not to strike. Collins then spent the next half hour discussing how rampage shooters meticulously plan their killings, calling them “obsessive and highly organized,” but unable to be predicted or profiled due to the wide range of factors that drive them to kill — apparently in an attempt to make the case that a shooter wouldn’t strike a campus where he knew employees might be armed.
Collins said that concealed carry holders, who make up about 1 to 2 percent of the general population in the state, aren’t committing crimes, and actually “commit crimes at a lower rate than law enforcement officers.” He said he’s tried to find common ground with college administration on concealed carry on campus, and has made concessions in the bill, including that no students will be allowed to carry on campus, no storage of weapons in dorm rooms, an exemption for on-campus day cares, banning concealed carry in faculty grievance hearings, and a specific prohibition to keep faculty and staff from carrying in athletic stadiums.
During questioning from the committee, Rep. Clarke Tucker noted that of the 33 public colleges and universities in the state, “100 percent of them have adopted a policy restricting concealed carry,” even though current law allows them to allow concealed carry if they wish. The bill, Tucker said, would disregard the judgement of university administrators. Tucker later said that passage of the bill would hurt the ability of universities to recruit academics and students from out of state. Collins said that while he didn’t believe there would be a “mass wave” of students and academics leaving, he would be open to reconsidering the law in the future if that was the case.
Rep. David Whitaker (D- Fayetteville) asked Collins to explain “how this bill doesn’t become the ‘shoot the professor first'” law if passed, to which Collins offered a somewhat rambling answer which revolved around shooters not knowing which professors would be armed and which wouldn’t.
The most pointed statement and questioning during the comment period came from University of Arkansas Police Department Chief of Police Steve Gahagans. Gahagans said that nearly every campus law enforcement official in the state opposes the bill. Gahagans then listed his credentials for the committee, nothing that in addition to a 15 year career in law enforcement, he is a firearms training instructor, former SWAT team member, and multiple award winner in marksmanship competitions. But even with all his training, Gahagans said, during training exercises employing a video screen to simulate shoot/don’t shoot situations “I still today will sometimes shoot the person I shouldn’t have shot.”
Police officers, Gahagans said, “train to be aware of the environment,” including noticing what’s in the background of their target, even in stressful situations. Departments and agencies pick ammunition specifically for their role, including choosing ammo that won’t “overpenetrate” a target and fragment or pass through walls in the background.
Gahagans said his wife, who works for the university, has a CC permit, but he would never support her or any other CC permit holder carrying a gun on campus. Gahagans said the training given to concealed carry permit holders may consist of as few as 10 rounds fired at the range, which then qualifies them to carry guns up to “a .44 magnum.” Officers, meanwhile, go through constant firearms training. He noted that statistics show that many more people are killed by accidents than active shooters, pointing to a 2013 case in which a student was injured at the UA campus radio station while showing off a shotgun. Gahagans closed his remarks by saying that if the bill becomes law, he would like to see the legislature pass bills granting “full immunity” to universities and officers in the event that officers shoot an armed staff or faculty member while responding to a distress call.
After the committee was allowed to ask questions of Gahagans, several legislators asked if he was speaking on behalf of the university, to which Gahagans replied he was speaking on behalf of himself, but was in line with the thinking of UA administration officials and had their blessing to speak. Rep Michelle Gray (R-Melbourne), after asking Gahagans again if he was there on behalf of the university and being told he was speaking for himself with University permission, asked if Gahagans had taken leave to come to Little Rock to speak. After Gahagans told he he was on duty, Gray said “We’ll follow up with that at a later time,” a comment that sounded enough like a veiled threat that several in the crowd hissed at her.
After being questioned whether he’d studied the Virginia Tech massacre, in which 32 students and faculty were killed and 17 wounded before police could respond, Gahagans said he had, and had altered the training of both campus police and students as a result. Gahagans said “deny/defend” training is now a mainstay of most campuses. “What we’re talking about is risk,” Gahagans said. “What is the risk level? More guns would equal more risk.” Soon after, several in the audience applauded Gahagans, causing the committee chair to warn he’d clear the room if there was another outburst. Gahagans went on to say that with the policies now in place during an active shooter call, “we can make a somewhat fair assumption that the person with the gun is our suspect. Even then we have to be careful.”
Rep. Gray later told the story of when she was interim vice president for a small college in the state, and was in charge on a day when they learned a disgruntled employee had been threatening a supervisor on social media. With no security or campus police to help her respond to the threat and no campus carry available, Gray asked Gahagans what he thought she should have done in the situation.
Gahagans said that she should have called the local police department and locked down the campus. Gray responded that administration did call the police and they were 15 minutes away. Gahagans said that if there was no active shooter on campus, he would have asked local police to come and patrol. “It’s not about the risk,” Gray said, “it’s about the response time.” She then said that in the fifteen minutes it took police to respond, the situation she was in “could have been another Virginia Tech.”
Among others who spoke against the bill was ASU system president Dr. Chuck Welch, who noted two incidents involving a threat on the ASU campus which were resolved without faculty/staff carry: a Dec. 2015 incident in which a man came on campus with a shotgun and a propane tank in his pickup, and a Feb. 2016 incident in which students making a short film were mistakenly reported as armed men carrying guns. In both cases, Welch said, trained police were able to respond, assess the situation, and resolve things without bloodshed, something he worries might not have happened had armed faculty and staff been involved. “Sometimes it’s about the shots that aren’t fired,” Welch said.
Donald Bobbitt, president of the University of Arkansas system, also spoke against the bill, saying that he doesn’t believe the bill will make his campus safer, adding that he had asked for exclusions to keep firearms out of often-flammable chemistry labs and ban them from student mental health and student health facilities, but failed.
The bill was passed on a roll call vote of 5 no, 12 yes.