Correction: State Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, says he spoke with representatives from many state colleges about recent concealed carry legislation, including an amendment he has proposed. None of them indicated support for the amendment, he added. This story about the legislation incorrectly stated that the conversations hadn’t taken place.
A legislative committee approved legislation that would require public universities and colleges to allow staff members with concealed-weapon permits to carry firearms on campus.
State Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, takes part Thursday in a meeting of the House Committee on Education. The committee backed legislation opened the way for public university staff members to carry concealed weapons on campuses.
An amended version of House Bill 1077, which failed earlier this month in a 10-10 party-line vote, passed out of the House Education Committee on Thursday on a voice vote. The bill now goes to the House floor.
Several Democrats worked with the sponsor, Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, to create an amendment to the bill that they said would make it safer.
"I think we saw how hard Rep. Collins had been pursuing this issue, not just this time but in the past two General Assemblies, and we had a great fear that we were going to lose the opportunity to shape this bill ... and it was still going to come to the floor of the House," said Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta. "And while we had the opportunity, we wanted to shape this bill ... make it a little safer, make it about campus safety, make it about an additional level of training and an additional commitment from the concealed-carry holder themselves."
Gray, along with Rep. Scott Baltz, D-Pocahontas and Rep. James Ratliff, D-Imboden, sponsored the amendment and spoke on its behalf Thursday.
The amendment gives the state's 33 public universities and colleges the ability to require that professors or staff members who want to carry concealed weapons on campus take a training course on dealing with attacks. It also gives the universities the ability to prohibit concealed weapons in day care or child care facilities on campus.
The amendment also lets schools require that their armed staff members have a concealed-carry license issued by the state. Supporters of the amendment said requiring an in-state license, will make sure that the Arkansas State Police is responsible for those staff members' training. It also will let the state police know which staff members are licensed to carry.
Baltz said the active-shooter course made him feel more comfortable than simply requiring the conceal-carry training. But others said the amendment created options where it should have created requirements.
Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, was skeptical of the amendment, noting that it would give schools the option of banning guns from child care facilities and would let them forgo the training courses.
"We're going out of our way to force this policy on our universities," Sabin said. "This amendment was supposed to be a compromise adding these two elements, yet again the only two sections and the most important sections use that term 'may' instead of 'shall.'"
Collins, who has filed similar bills during the past two sessions, said he was not willing to make the shooter training or the child care facility weapons ban mandatory.
"I would assume that the bigger universities are going to require that active-shooter training, but you would have to ask them," he said. "I don't want us to go backwards in terms of what we're allowing from a concealed-carry permit standpoint. I really feel strongly that the state police in Arkansas do a fantastic job in their [concealed-carry] training."
Collins successfully sponsored legislation in 2013 allowing staff members to carry concealed handguns on college and university campuses. But to gain passage, he was forced to amend the legislation and give schools the choice of opting out and banning handguns. All 33 public higher education institutions passed anti-gun policies.
The amendment would require that the training be made available once every three months and would require professors to take an initial 16-hour course and an eight-hour refresher course annually. The training does not have to be offered on campus, but must be made available at a reasonable cost and professors must be given time off to take the course.
Police departments, school resource officers and county sheriff's offices often offer the courses on campuses that are closed to students for a day. The courses role-play what the best response would be in different situations.
The debate Thursday was much shorter than when HB1077 failed in committee a few weeks ago, lasting about 30 minutes instead of several hours. No members of the public signed up to speak for or against the bill Thursday.
Gray said he had not spoken to the universities and colleges that would be affected by the bill, saying their choice to opt out of the 2013 legislation spoke loudly about their feelings. He said he hoped each opted to require the extra level of training.
"The feeling I have is that they would all require it, but there were no specific universities that said they would require it," he said.
Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, raised concerns that students and the public would not have any idea who was carrying a weapon on a college campus under Collins' proposal. He asked if the bill would make those staff members who took part in the training or asked for permission to carry a concealed weapon, a matter of public record available under the state's Freedom of Information Act.
Collins said the bill would treat those concealed-carry permit holders on campus the same as those off-campus -- their information would be available to law enforcement officials to coordinate responses, but would not be available to the public.
"The access to the information is for the use of law enforcement in ensuring that we minimize risk, maximize safety and protect our children," Collins said. "But it is not designed to be used for others to be used to make employment decisions or decide which individuals they may or may not be happy with."
Under the proposal, universities within close proximity to an emergency room or to the Clinton Presidential Center would be exempt from the requirement to allow professors to carry weapons. The exemption covers the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences as well as the Clinton School of Public Service.
Metro on 02/27/2015
Print Headline: Guns-at-college bill heads to House