Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a high profile bill that greatly expands where concealed carry license holders can bring handguns.
The Republican governor made his announcement flanked by several GOP lawmakers and an executive with the National Rifle Association, all of whom helped shape the new law. Hutchinson said the final legislation wasn’t perfect but the group around him balanced the need for safety and Second Amendment rights.
“And [they] really worked out a compromise piece of legislation that is consistent with my view of how firearms should be handled in sensitive areas,” he said.
These "sensitive areas" will eventually include public colleges and universities - including stadiums - and public buildings such as the state Capitol. Bars, restaurants and private colleges could decide whether to allow guns. Prison facilities, courtrooms and K-12 grade schools will still be off limits for concealed carry holders. The storage of a handgun at a public university or college dormitory or residence hall is prohibited.***
Further restrictions could be possible, Senate President Jonathan Dismang noted he has introduced a proposal to restrict carrying onto the campus of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas State Hospital in Little Rock.
At the press conference Wednesday, Hutchinson concluded Arkansas has a good track record with concealed carry. The state began issuing concealed carry licenses in 1995.
“History has demonstrated and experience has demonstrated that it has worked well. And so now we’re moving into a new arena, a new area of change. But we’re guided by the fact that while we’ll have a new permit that will allow enhanced carry, it requires more training,” he said.
In order to tote guns into more public areas, Act 562 (also known as HB1249) stipulates Arkansans with concealed carry permits will have to undergo up to eight additional hours of training. This will be developed and regulated by the Arkansas State Police and will likely deal with active shooter scenarios.
“We’re not going to do this alone. We’re going to have to solicit assistance from our university police departments, our police chiefs, our sheriffs, our subject matter experts… it’s got to be a group effort to develop this training,” said state police Director Colonel Bill Bryant.
The State Police will have 120 days upon the law’s effective date, September 1st, to set the training guidelines.
The new concealed carry law morphed out of a bill proposed by Republican Rep. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville. It was originally intended for faculty and staff at public universities but after passing in the House of Representatives, the Senate mulled the bill over for more than a month. The upper chamber introduced amendments adding and subtracting training requirements; expanding locations; and lowering age requirements for who had the right to carry.
Rep. Collins, who has pushed for campus carry laws since 2013, used the press conference to repeat his frequent claim that he simply intends to prevent mass shootings.
“I believe what we’re doing here is increasing the safety of Arkansas, by deterring, deterring some of these crazy killers from choosing to go to our campuses and potentially murder people,” he said.
Throughout the legislative process, one key organization exercised its political muscle. Chris Cox, the chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, was on hand and told reporters the law was in line with the group’s ultimate aim.
“Our goal is to make sure that there are as few and ultimately no roadblocks between law abiding people and their ability to exercise what is a fundamental right of self defense. Now, can people lose those rights? Of course, that’s called the criminal justice system,” he told reporters.
But overall, the bill’s opponents say they find little consolation in the final result. Fayetteville Democratic Representative Greg Leding told KUAR that the NRA had an “outsized influence.”
“In my opinion, the people who are going to be directly affected by this—the students, parents, athletes, law enforcement officers on our campuses—they’re the ones whose opinions matter most. Unless you have a connection to campus, I don’t really care what you think because you’re not going to be affected. And the people who are on our campuses made it abundantly clear, crystal clear that they oppose this,” he said.
The University of Arkansas Board of Trustees, along with every public college and university in the state, used to have the option of whether or not to allow faculty and staff to carry on campus. All of them have said no in the past. The presidents of the UA and ASU systems, as well as college police organizations, have objected to the new law requiring campuses to be opened up to concealed carry holders.
Even with training requirements likely to be implemented months after the law goes into effect Leding, who represents part of UA Fayetteville campus, worries people may start carrying firearms immediately.
“People don’t always understand those kinds of dates and guidelines. There might be people out there who heard this was signed into law and start carrying on campus today,” said Leding.
***Clarification: An original version of this article stated that public university dormitories would also be "off limits" to concealed firearms. The new law, however, doesn't necessarily stipulate that concealed carriers cannot bring guns into dormitories, only that they cannot store them in the dormitories and residence halls.
This article was edited on 3/23/17.