The House today approved SB 724, the cleanup of some questions raised following passage of a bill expanding where concealed weapons can be carried in Arkansas. The vote was 71-20, with one present.
The new bil
l, which goes to the governor, allows schools to prohibit concealed weapons in college athletic venues. The Southeastern Conference had raised concerns about guns at games. It also provides exemptions from the expanded gun bill for daycares, the State Hospital and UAMS. It also allows private entities — churches, bars and other places — to prohibit guns but not post the fact. If they choose not to post a warning and a concealed carry permit holder comes on the premises, they can be warned but not charged with a crime unless they repeat such a visit. The expansion of gun rights will be given to those who take an additional eight hours of training beyond what is already required for a permit.
CORRECTION: The bill has to go back to the Senate for concurrence to a small amendment added in the House committee and included in the version passed today.
When Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the original bill last week, he indicated at the news conference that amendments would be forthcoming, particularly to deal with sports and UAMS.
Rep. Charlie Collins, who sponsored the original legislation, said he hoped the Arkansas law would set an example for the country and “deter crazy killers from going to our campuses.” He said he hoped other states will adopt the approach. The legislation is “transformative, groundbreaking and landmark.” He acknowledged criticism, but said he was proud of it, even if advocates had been called “doofuses, goofballs and idiots.” He said, “That couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
He said he’d learned things after passing the first bill, originally designed to allow only university staff members to take guns on campus. It grew much more, through the influence of the NRA.
In a bow to those who preferred the bill without these amendments, said he had been assured Razorback Stadium would have all the elements envisioned in State Police-approved security plans for “sensitive areas” granted exemptions from concealed carry accessibility. This would include security staff and magnetometers, he said. “There will also be sniper teams,” he said. He said he was reluctant to go into more detail. “I don’t want to tell potential terrorists and other bad guys more specifics.” The legislature earlier this session broadly exempted security information at schools, from kindergarten through college, from the Freedom of Information Act.
Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) spoke for the bill. He said he had to look beyond the first bill, which is already law, and endorse this one for some important improvements. He said there might be some other holes that need closing.
One, clearly, is sporting events at all levels. High school games are open to concealed carry now. If there’s fear of passion at college games, feelings run equally at other levels of athletics, down to peewee league.
Tucker noted airport terminals are now open to concealed carry. He said he didn’t like that. “The question now is not whether this bill is perfect. … The question for us is whether this is good for the people of Arkansas.”
Rep. Justin Gonzales (R-Okolona) urged a no vote. He said it needed an amendment to make it something all could be comfortable with.
Rep. John Walker (D-Little Rock), in opposing the bill, said he had a perfect NRA rating at the “opposite end” of where Collins falls on the gun lobby’s rating system. He lamented the gun lobby’s influence. He said, too, that he was concerned Collins had made reference to information that he was privy to but others were not. Collins said later that wasn’t so.
Rep. Vivian Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) said she owned a gun and was applying for a concealed carry permit, but she said she was “uncomfortable” voting for an amendment that addresses “only a couple of things, giving an indication that everything was OK when we know it is not.” She said more balance was needed in gun laws for safety’s sake.
Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) went to the floor to speak for the bill and talked of “consistency of logic.” He said all know the bill won’t “solve all the world’s problems.” Every session has a heavy workload of correcting bills from previous sessions. “Folks, this is just part of it.” If there are problems to be fixed, other bills must be filed, he said. “Putting all the world’s fixes in one bill is not going to be the answer.”
Gillam acknowledged the fierce NRA lobbying effort not to water down the bill signed last week.
Rep. Laurie Rushing wanted to know why leadership didn’t allow some amendments that would have made the bill more palatable to both the SEC and “gun owners.” Gillam said it was too subjective to say the amendments would have dealt with all concerns, especially this late in the session.
Rep. Jim Sorvillo (R-Little Rock) indicated this bill doesn’t yet get things right, something that’s potentially dangerous.
Flowers asked Gillam why more of the holes couldn’t be addressed — guns at libraries and community mental health centers, for example.
Said Gillam: “At some point you have to fish or cut bait.” He said it was a good, if not perfect bill and the opportunity to pass it shouldn’t be lost “just because it didn’t meet every one of our expectations.”
Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R-Paragould) said legislators had been given an impossible choice — between Razorback fans and the NRA. He believed a better solution could be crafted though he mentioned no specifics.
Collins said a perfect amendment was a “fantasy.” He disputed legislators faced an impossible choice. Rather, he said, they had a difficult decision. Arkansas has a “nation-leading expansion” of concealed carry rights. There was one major problem (college sports) and “this bill fixes it.”
The bill takes effect Sept. 1. But the new training program for the additional concealed carry certification that the State Police develop won’t be in place until 2018. So no additional concealed carry will be allowed in college football stadiums in Arkansas this fall.