CONWAY -- Some Faulkner County government employees can soon add guns to the items they carry to work each day.
The county's Quorum Court voted 12-0 Tuesday night to allow employees and elected officials who are licensed to carry a concealed handgun to bring one onto county property. Justice of the Peace Linda Paxton was absent.
The ordinance will take effect once County Judge Jim Baker signs it.
The measure has some significant exceptions. They include any detention facility, any sheriff's department office, and the Faulkner County Justice Building. That building, dedicated just over a year ago, houses six circuit courtrooms and five judges' chambers, the prosecuting attorney's office, a circuit clerk branch, and other offices.
Also exempted is any other courtroom, unless permission is granted by the presiding judge. That exception would cover the district court building on Parkway Street in Conway, as well as any other rooms where court might be held.
The Justice Building has a guarded metal detector at its first-floor entrance. Armed deputies are also stationed in courtrooms during hearings or trials. There are no detectors on the four-story building's upper floors, where all of the courtrooms are located.
In explaining why the Justice Building was exempted, Justice of the Peace Randy Higgins, who oversaw the bill's progress over the past three months, said after the meeting that all of the circuit judges "were already going to not allow [the public to carry] firearms in their courtrooms."
"That building is full of law-enforcement officers ... already," said Higgins, a Republican. Justices of the peace also didn't want to have to install additional metal detectors throughout the building.
The only discussion preceding the vote was Higgins' brief explanation of amendments to the measure. No one from the audience offered any questions or comments.
Higgins said he wasn't surprised at how easily the measure passed because it had been amended repeatedly "to make accommodations" for others' concerns over the past three months.
"I went to every one of the elected officials and talked to them individually," he said. He also spoke to the county's other elected officials about the proposal.
Higgins said he believes the ordinance, along with active-shooter training for all county employees, will make county buildings safer. Sheriff Matt Rice has agreed to offer the training to all employees, not just those who bring guns to work, Higgins said.
"We certainly don't want to create a situation where just because you're an employee with a concealed carry permit, all of a sudden you become law enforcement," he added.
The county also plans to have elected officials keep a list of employees who have concealed-carry permits so that people will know which workers are allowed to bring them.
"We're not talking about a lot of employees," Higgins said. He said his "gut" feeling is that fewer than a dozen employees will bring concealed weapons to work.
Justice of the Peace Steve Goode, a Republican, said after the meeting that he also wasn't surprised at the lack of discussion among justices of the peace at Tuesday night's meeting or the lack of comments from the audience.
"I think their questions [were] answered before they got here," Goode said. "That thing was vetted very well in our Courts and Public Safety Committee."
Earlier this year, the Arkansas General Assembly approved Act 1259, which allows county elected officials and county employees with concealed-weapon permits to carry concealed handguns in county buildings, with the approval of their quorum courts.
Such buildings may include "the courthouse, the courthouse annex or other building owned, leased, or regularly used by the county for conducting court proceedings or housing a county office," says the act, sponsored in part by state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas.
State Desk on 11/18/2015
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