The dramatically expanded bill that began as an effort to allow university staff members to carry concealed weapons on campus was approved this morning in a House committee. It concurred in a Senate amendment on a voice vote and the bill goes to the House.
The bill came back to the House with a Senate amendment that opens campuses to ALL with concealed carry permits who also obtain an endorsement from the State Police for additional training of up to eight hours in such topics as an active shooter situation. This means anyone age 18 or older can, with the proper classes, qualify to take a gun on campus.
But the bill also dramatically expands the places where guns can be carried, including the State Capitol, county courthouses and most other public buildings, with rare exceptions. It also opens bars and churches to concealed carry, unless those places post notices prohibiting it.
The NRA endorsed this amended version of the bill after Collin’s originally bill had gotten mired in committee.
Some questioning whether the cost of the new State Police training program would be covered by the new permit fees. Collins said the governor had no concern about that. Private providers will provide the training, but the State Police will administer it. A fee will be required for those providing the courses.
Collins pitched his bill as a solution to a problem — regular shootings on school campuses. He said this concerned him more than some of the questions about costs. “This is about savings lives. This about getting crazy people to say, ‘I’m not going to shoot people on an Arkansas campus today.’ “
Testimony included an objections from proponents of unlimited open carry of weapons. This bill is just more regulation, they said.
Anthony Roulette, lobbyist for the NRA, said his organization was “very happy” with the bill, particularly its expansion. “It’s our primary legislative objective in Arkansas this year.”
Rep. Doug House asked about the requirement for a sign on a church door for those who don’t want guns inside. Roulette said he saw the provision as a return of property rights to the church. But House noted that the current law prohibits a gun unless the church chose otherwise. “Where do we get off telling churches to do anything?”
Austin Bailey, who works with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, opposed the bill in original and amended form. She noted the new bill adds guns in sporting events and parks and places where alcohol is consumed and in university daycares. She said the new training was “minimal.”
“I wonder why we are considering legislation putting students at risk,” she asked. She said research shows more guns in public places doesn’t have a deterrent effect on public shootings. “This is not about safety.”
She said the bill is placed on a presumption that untrained people are able to take the place of trained law enforcement in shooting situations and will place a burden on law officers to decide who’s the bad actor in a crisis situation.
“Our campuses are vulnerable and we have a chance to take a significant step in the right direction,” Collins said in closing.