Over the strong objection of a university chancellor, Arkansas legislators approved a measure this week to allow people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses, and in bars and government buildings.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, flanked by Arkansas House legislators and a gun lobbyist, signed House Bill 1294 on Wednesday, expanding the locations where concealed handguns are allowed. The new state law will take effect Sept. 1.
Arkansas will become the 11th state to allow concealed weapons on campuses. And although Arkansas politicians have for several years promoted legislation to liberalize gun restrictions on public campuses, neither the university leadership nor the students have been asking for them.
In fact, University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz issued a strong statement in opposition to the law in January.
“Our own law enforcement officers do not believe that the campus would be safer if guns are permitted. We have serious concerns about increasing the number of armed individuals posing a significant threat, particularly in an active situation when officers must make immediate determinations about who is a threat,” Steinmetz said. “Also, though not as important as the safety of campus, a campus carry bill has the potential to negatively affect the recruitment and retention of students, faculty, and staff.”
In fact, faculty and staff have been permitted to carry concealed guns at public colleges and universities in Arkansas under a 2013 law that required schools to opt in. None have.
“The feedback we’ve heard from students and faculty has been overwhelmingly against allowing guns on our campuses,” said Nate Hinkel, the director of communications for the University of Arkansas systems.
In an interview this week, GOP Rep. Charlie Collins, the bill’s chief sponsor, said the intent of the law is to keep people safe from mass shooters who are attracted to places like schools.
Would-be killers will now think, “Hey, I may run into a concealed carry holder, maybe I need to think to myself I am not going to kill people on an Arkansas college campus today,” Collins said.
“The gut reaction is that to be safe, we should ban guns,” he said. “Well, that doesn’t apply to the bad guys. It doesn’t work to ban guns; it just feels good to. The people who want to kill you, they don’t follow your law. I understand, emotionally, why that group in particular is going to feel that way, but it has the opposite of its intended effect, in my view, in terms of actually delivering safety. And I think we are going to have to deter some of these killers and that it will be good for the people of Arkansas.”
Rep. Collins says the concealed-carry permit requires training that teaches owners how to handle their guns in dire circumstance – in theory.
“The training is much more about the legalities and the process, and what it means to be a concealed-carry permit holder,” Collins said. “It is not necessarily about how to operate in a shooting situation but [rather] about what the specific gun laws are.”