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For common sense

Campuses need not be armed by Stephen K. Boss Special to the Democrat-Gazette | January 29, 2015 at 3:02 a.m.

Rep. Charlie Collins is obsessed with arming college campuses across Arkansas.

Recently, he introduced HB1077, a bill with no co-sponsors, to mandate that college campuses allow the carrying of concealed handguns, which overrides Act 226, passed at his urging in 2013. Collins first attempted to pass this law in 2011, but it failed in committee when it faced widespread, unanimous opposition from college leaders; state, municipal, and college police; college employees and students. In 2013, he tried again, and the same unanimous, widespread chorus rose in opposition.

Ultimately, Mr. Collins was forced to compromise, amending his bill to permit governing boards of Arkansas' higher-education institutions to annually "opt out" and continue prohibiting concealed handguns on campuses. Consequently, every institution in Arkansas opted out of Act 226 in 2013 and 2014.

Let that sink in. For two consecutive years, all 52 higher-education institutions voted to prohibit carrying of concealed handguns on their campuses. What was the outcome of prohibiting guns on our campuses? Exactly zero incidents of gun violence at Arkansas colleges during those two years. Our college campuses statewide are very safe environments because professional public-safety departments provide exemplary security services to everyone.

Act 226 is working well for the people of Arkansas. If Rep. Collins desires to improve Act 226, a better amendment would acknowledge that concealed handguns are currently prohibited at all 52 institutions statewide but governing boards may vote "in" on concealed carry if the campus security setting demonstrates the need; "opt in" to concealed carry makes more sense than "opt out."

The unanimous rejection of the mandate is a loud and clear message that no college in Arkansas wants guns on campus. So why does Mr. Collins refile a bill to force guns on campuses during every legislative session? Each time he files the bill, it creates a contentious atmosphere by proposing a solution to a non-existent problem. Why?

Mr. Collins frequently expresses his concern that dangerously mentally ill people have access to guns, and those people might come to our colleges to harm our loved ones with their guns. I share common ground with Mr. Collins here. I teach your daughters and sons in college and I have two daughters attending college. I certainly don't want any harm to come to your children or mine at the hands of anyone carrying a gun on campus.

Many are aware that dangerously mentally ill people in America have easy access to guns and can recite from memory the litany of mass shootings perpetrated by them: the Washington Navy Yard, Isla Vista, Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech, Columbine, Jonesboro, etc. So I understand the concern, as we all do. However, all 52 colleges statewide rejected Collins' proposed solution. Mr. Collins seems to believe we must let dangerously mentally ill people have their guns, arm ourselves against them, and then hope for a good outcome.

A more effective solution would be to copy the California State Assembly. In the aftermath of the murderous rampage by a mentally ill 22-year-old college student in Isla Vista last spring, the California State Assembly passed the California Gun Violence Restraining Order statute (AB1014). The brilliance of this law is that it utilizes our constitutionally authorized system of due process to disarm dangerously mentally ill people before they can cause society harm.

You see, families or others close to those afflicted with mental illness often observe the signs of serious mental deterioration that may presage violent behaviors. Unfortunately, in California and elsewhere, folks aware of the deteriorating mental health of these people had no authority to take action. In the Isla Vista incident, the family of the assailant tried to warn law enforcement ahead of their son's violent outburst. Had the Gun Violence Restraining Order law been in effect, the family could have received court approval authorizing law enforcement to seize their son's guns and hold him for treatment of his disorder before his rampage occurred.

Here in Arkansas, everyone will agree we should prevent dangerously mentally ill persons from keeping lethal weapons. That's just common sense.

Therefore, if Rep. Collins believes that dangerously mentally ill persons possessing guns threaten the safety of our college campuses, I challenge him and the General Assembly to pass a law emulating California's AB1014. Give Arkansas families and law enforcement a law that permits them to act in the public interest through our court system to separate dangerously mentally ill persons from their lethal weapons before they can harm others. Further, permit governing boards of our state's colleges to continue governing their institutions based on their best judgment of campus security conditions.

We can make Arkansas colleges safer for everyone if we simply use common sense about guns.


Stephen K. Boss is a professor of environmental dynamics at the University of Arkansas, and a leader of Arkansans Against Guns on Campus. The views expressed are his own.

Editorial on 01/29/2015

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