LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — A bill to force public colleges and universities in Arkansas to allow staff and faculty to bring guns onto campus that was previously defeated found new life Thursday through the support of three Democrats.
The bill expands a 2013 law that permitted guns on campus — but allowed universities to opt-out, which all 33 higher education institutions in the state did. The House Education Committee passed the reworked measure by voice vote after it was narrowly defeated on a party line vote earlier this month.
Democrats resuscitated the issue when Rep. Scott Baltz of Pocahontas on Thursday offered an amended version to the committee, joined by fellow Democrats Michael Gray of Augusta and James Ratliff of Imboden.
The proposal removes the ability for universities to opt-out but allows them to require active shooter training for those who want to bring guns on campus. It prevents people from carrying on campus with out-of-state licenses and bars anyone from bringing a gun into an on-campus day care. Students, even if they have a concealed carry license, wouldn't be able to carry firearms under the proposal.
"We've done a lot of working together on this," Baltz said. "We're not against weapons in any shape, form or fashion but we are for safety of the kids and the teachers."
Only one state, Utah, forces its public institutions to allow firearms, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Six states have provisions that allow for concealed carry and 23 allow the decision to be made by the college or university.
Bill sponsor Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, has maintained the bill will protect children and deter mass shootings on campuses.
Opponents have said the move takes control away from universities and denounced the compromise.
Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, voted against the bill but said the extra training and the day care exemption should be mandatory safety measures.
"We say we want to require active shooter training and keep guns from those areas but we're not requiring them to do so," Sabin said.
Gray said after the meeting that he flipped his vote to ensure that Democrats could get safety concessions from Collins, who previously floated the idea of broadening the bill and running it in a different committee.
"We had a great fear that we were going to lose an opportunity to shape this bill and while we had an opportunity... we wanted to make it a little safer," Gray said.
House Speaker Jeremy Gillam said he personally supports the bill and that it has initially received a relatively positive reaction from the chamber.
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