Approval said likely for campus-gun bill

Proposal would allow concealed carry for university faculty, staff, not students

FAYETTEVILLE -- A bill allowing some concealed-carry gun permit holders to remain armed on state college campuses will almost certainly pass in the coming legislative session, both its longtime sponsor and a major opponent in the House said Tuesday.

State Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, first introduced a campus-carry bill in 2011 when he was a freshman legislator. That bill and his proposals in the 2013 and 2015 sessions would allow college and university faculty members and full-time employees, but not students, to carry handguns on campus if they have a state permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Collins argued that a shooter planning a rampage will know to target colleges because campuses are gun-free zones where people cannot defend themselves.

Opponents argue that Collins' view clashes with national crime statistics that show college campuses to be among the safest places in the country, despite high-profile exceptions such as the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting in which a single assailant killed 32 people.

Opponents also say that having guns on campus would complicate the task of police, who would have to sort out who was legally carrying a gun for self-defense and who was a shooter during a crisis.

Compromise in 2013 gave college and university trustees for each institution the power to decide whether to allow guns on campus. All state public higher-education institutions have passed policies prohibiting guns on their campuses and have renewed them yearly since then.

"This year, I'm confident a concealed-carry bill will pass," Collins said. He cited the Republican majority in both chambers of the Legislature. The GOP will have a 26-9 advantage in the Senate and 75-25 in the House. Republicans gained nine seats in the election and have had two House Democrats switch parties since.

The Democrats will have a much harder time stopping or amending the legislation this time, said state Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville. Leding's district includes the University of Arkansas campus, a major center of resistance to Collins bill.

"Unless there's an overwhelming response, a clamoring from the public, I think he's probably right," Leding said of Collins' prediction of passage.

"I think the current compromise, to let the people responsible for overseeing the college or the university decide what's best, is much better than forcing this bone-headed policy on everybody," Leding said.

Dr. Chuck Welch, Arkansas State University System president, commented Wednesday in a statement: "The ASU System remains grateful to Rep. Charlie Collins for his 2013 legislation allowing the higher education governing boards to make decisions on the local level regarding firearms on college campuses. Each of the ASU System campuses annually visits with the different campus constituencies about this issue, and each campus continues to recommend to the Board of Trustees that faculty and staff not be allowed to carry firearms on campus. Our board has opted out each year. We prefer that only our licensed law enforcement officers carry firearms on the ASU System campuses, and that all similar decisions should be made at the local level."

The University of Arkansas System had no immediate comment Wednesday because it would be premature to comment on a bill that has not been drafted or filed yet, a spokesman said.

As state law now stands, Act 1078 of 2015 allows concealed-carry permit holders to leave the guns in their locked and unattended vehicles in the publicly owned and maintained parking lots of colleges, community colleges or universities. The measure also allows concealed-carry permit holders to carry handguns in their vehicles on certain other public property, including some other publicly owned and maintained parking lots.

Metro on 11/24/2016

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