LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Arkansas House members on Monday sided with arguments that decisions about guns on college campuses should be made by the Legislature, not educators.
Lawmakers voted 66-25 to advance a bill to the Senate that would force public institutions to allow faculty and staff with concealed carry licenses to bring firearms on campus. The bill repeals an opt-out provision from a 2013 state law that allowed universities to opt-out of allowing guns, which all 33 institutions in the state did.
The bill by Republican Rep. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville had previously stalled in committee after an outpouring of opposition from students but was resuscitated last week by some Democrats who offered an amended version. That version, approved by the full body Monday, allows universities to require active shooter training for those who wish to bring their guns on campus. It also prevents people from carrying on campus with out-of-state licenses and could bar anyone from bringing a gun into an on-campus day care. Students would remain barred from bringing guns.
The bill would bring Arkansas more in line with Mississippi, which allows campus carry for people who take a voluntary safety course, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Seven states allow some form of concealed weapons on public campuses and only Utah bars institutions from banning concealed carry, according to the organization's website. Twenty three states, Arkansas included, allow the institutions to decide.
Collins said the change will protect children by deterring a mass shooting.
"Merely the potential of running into somebody that could stop him is enough to deter some of these killers," Collins said.
Still, some House Democrats pushed back against the change, noting that every institution in the state had rejected it.
Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, questioned the necessity of the bill.
"Again, here we are going to the forefront of an area where only a few other states have gone," Walker said. "The states with the colleges of great worth and importance do not have in place laws which allow this."
Rep. Mark McElroy, D-Tillar, opened his testimony by telling the body he loves "guns, grits and gravy" and that he has more firearms than Remington, the weapons manufacturer. He referenced requirements endorsed by the House this session to require students learn cursive writing and to bar cities from expanding anti-discrimination ordinances to protect people based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
"I love guns, but are we for local control?" McElroy asked. "We say we are until we're not."
Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville said it is the state's responsibility to set higher education policy. A gun is just a tool, he said, adding that some educators were unreasonably fearful of them.
"I frankly think that some of the people in higher education need an education," Ballinger said.
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