The Senate today approved SB 724 to provide exemptions from a new expanded concealed weapon bill to allow them to be banned from college athletic events. The vote was 23-7 and the bill goes to the governor.
Emotions ran high on both sides.
Sen. Trent Garner opposed the bill, giving an impassioned speech on the “God-given” right to carry a gun. He said those who favored exemptions to gun-carrying boiled down to a matter of “fear versus freedom.” He said there should be no fear about people who choose to exercise a 2nd Amendment right.
The speech rang somewhat hollow against Garner’s earlier defense of a bill to punish people who stray outside of subjective bounds in exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of assembly. Garner snapped at Sen. Will Bond, who questioned him on his view of guns at Razorback games. Garner evaded the question, finally saying angrily he’d answered but Bond didn’t understand. He later apologized. He said he’d been trained from military experience in the Middle East to sometimes “bark” at Afghanis when his emotion ran high.
Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson said senators had to represent constituents and “when 90 percent of them speak loudly … then that’s our obligation” not the NRA. He said the legislature had increased gun rights, with some “reasonable” exceptions.
Sen. Bryan King objected to the hurryup way the bill was changed several times, contrasting it with the years-long battle he’s waged for a voter ID law. “It’s an embarrassment to the SEC; it’s an embarrassment to put the NRA in this situation; it’s an embarrassment to the state.”
Sen. Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff remonstrated Garner for his remarks. She said she had brothers and an uncle who served in war and a sister killed by a gun at college. “Where I’m from, the God I serve does not tell me that I have a fundamental right to carry a gun.” She said she also knew Afghanistan veterans who opposed expanded gun bill and “carrying guns in bars.”
Said Flowers, “They are peaceable people, loving people. The God they serve is a God of love.” She referred also to another bill this session that requires posting of “In God We Trust” posters in public buildings. “Signs don’t mean a thing. It’s what in your heart.”
She closed: “So don’t tell me about no damn ‘Everybody gotta have a gun.’ Go to hell with your guns. I’m voting for the damn bill. I don’t want to.”
Jay Bir of Fox 16 caught a snippet from the gallery:
— Jay Bir (@TheJayBir) March 31, 2017
The amendment was carried by Senate President Jonathan Dismang, who noted that the legislation, filed the day after Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the expanded concealed carry bill that did not exempt college athletics, also allowed UAMS, the State Hospital and daycares to prohibit guns. It also allows churches to prohibit guns without posting a sign to that effect.
The NRA opposed the changes, wanting to consolidate behind the unprecedented scope of the earlier bill. Garner is a devoted follower of the NRA.