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Some state higher-ed schools revise gun policies

by Shea Stewart | September 19, 2015 at 3:40 a.m.

A new state law has prompted several public higher-education institutions to amend their weapons policies to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry concealed handguns in their vehicles in school parking lots.

Act 1078 of 2015 allows concealed-carry permit holders to carry concealed handguns in their vehicles or leave the guns in their locked and unattended vehicles in the publicly owned and maintained parking lots of colleges, community colleges or universities.

The law, sponsored by state Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne, went into effect July 22. It also allows concealed-carry permit holders to carry concealed handguns in their vehicles on certain other public property, including some other publicly owned and maintained parking lots.

The Arkansas State University System is the latest public higher-education institution in the state to amend its weapons policy to be consistent with the state law. The ASU board of trustees created the exception to its system's weapons policy during a Friday meeting in Newport.

"They can't take it out of their vehicle," ASU System President Chuck Welch told board members, referring to a concealed weapon.

"The higher-education community determined not to actively oppose this legislation during the most recent session for a variety of reasons. ... We felt like as long as the individual has the concealed-weapon permit and if they keep it in their locked vehicle that it should not be a problem," he said.

"They will not be able to have them in the classroom, on the grounds or any other facility unless it's in that locked vehicle," Welch said.

Carrying handguns on a state campus is generally prohibited by law, but state Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, sponsored legislation in 2013 that allows staff members to carry concealed handguns on public college and university campuses. In order to gain its passage, he was forced to amend the legislation and give schools the choice of opting out and banning handguns.

All state public higher-education institutions have passed policies prohibiting guns on their campuses and have renewed them yearly since then.

The executive summary of the ASU board's resolution also notes that the university system "is dedicated to providing an educational and social climate that is conducive to the safety of all members of the university community."

In May, Arkansas Tech University amended its policy addressing concealed handguns carried by staff members at its Russellville and Ozark campuses, along with satellite locations, to conform to the state law.

The university's revised policy prohibits staff members from carrying concealed handguns in campus buildings or on the grounds owned or leased by the university, but it states that the provision doesn't apply to university public safety officers or "any other possession authorized by law."

Arkansas Tech spokesman Sam Strasner said members of the public could leave their handguns locked in unoccupied vehicles in the parking lot on campus "as long as they have the proper permit."

"That same standard would also apply to a faculty or staff member -- or any citizen -- who had the concealed permit. That weapon could be in their locked and unoccupied car on a campus parking lot. That's part of Act 1078," Strasner said.

Also in May, the University of Central Arkansas in Conway passed a similarly worded revised firearms policy that prohibits the possession, carrying, storage or use of handguns or other firearms on campus, in a university owned or controlled building or at a an university event. But the policy doesn't apply to law enforcement officers and "any other possession authorized by law."

"The UCA Board addressed this issue at its May board meeting and approved changes that would fall in line with the new law," UCA spokesman Christina Munoz Madsen said in an email.

A June memo from the University of Arkansas System's general counsel circulated to the system's chancellors made them aware of the new law but didn't change the system's weapons policy.

"Signs on the campus shall continue to be posted saying 'carrying a handgun is prohibited,'" the memo stated.

"Questions of fact whether the individual is appropriately licensed, the handgun is locked in [their] vehicle, whether the handgun is concealed and whether the ... vehicle is unattended, remain to be determined by campus law enforcement," it stated.

In Arkadelphia, current policy at Henderson State University prohibits the possession of any firearm or weapon by anyone other than university police "or other authorized law enforcement officers on any university property, at any university event or activity, during travel on university business or in any university vehicle."

The university also "prohibits the carrying of a concealed handgun on university property including in buildings and on the grounds by any person including employees," its policy states.

An university official said HSU doesn't have any resolutions addressing its weapons policy "under consideration at this time."

State Desk on 09/19/2015

Print Headline: Some state higher-ed schools revise gun policies

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