Arkansas State Police rules for an "enhanced" concealed-carry licensing program cleared their last legislative hurdle Friday, bringing the state one step closer to allowing gun owners to take their weapons onto public college campuses and into bars and other public buildings.
Nearly two hours of debate saw two unusual allies try to defeat the rules and spike the implementation of Arkansas' so-called campus-carry law, Act 562 of 2017, which lawmakers passed in the spring toward the end of a regular legislative session.
Democrats raised concerns during the debate that the rules were written to allow guns inside dormitory rooms, which they said violated the legislative intent of the law. Some Republicans, on the other hand, said the rules weren't needed at all under a plain reading of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
But the Legislative Council, in a 24 to 12 vote with ayes cast by Republicans and some centrist Democrats, overcame the opposition and approved the rules, allowing the state to move toward issuing the enhanced-carry licenses. Those who want enhanced licenses will have to take additional training and meet marksmanship requirements to prepare them for active-shooter situations.
The extra training can begin once instructors take their additional tests required by the rules, according to a state police spokesman.
Some concealed-carry license instructors have said they don't like the enhanced-license rules, which require them to offer both the regular and additional courses.
Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, attempted to alleviate those concerns, promising that lawmakers would return during the fiscal session early next year to amend the law and make the courses optional for instructors.
But opposing Republicans said implementing rules could have immediate consequences if gun instructors stopped offering the training altogether.
"If you pass this today, the clock starts ticking," said Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, who successfully moved to table consideration of the rules at a committee meeting earlier in the week.
Had the Legislative Council failed to approve the rules, state police would not have been able to enforce them, effectively blocking the state from issuing any enhanced licenses, said Marty Garrity, the director of the Bureau of Legislative Research. The Legislative Council is a body of lawmakers that meets between legislative sessions to watch over state government actions.
Failing to approve the rules also could have opened up the state or the Legislature to a lawsuit by someone hoping to force them to implement the rules, which were required by Act 562, she told lawmakers who inquired about the consequences of voting down the rules.
House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, summed up the opposition to the rules as "buyer's remorse on the vote taken in the session."
Some of the opponents had strong feelings about the way the campus-carry law was passed earlier this year.
Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, called the legislation a "debacle," while Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, said the continued squabbles "prove how quickly and haphazardly [Act 562] was approved."
Before Act 562 was passed in the spring, supporters had to pull it out of a committee where the members were at a stalemate. After giving the bill final approval, lawmakers had to make changes after officials from several collegiate athletics conferences complained about the possibility of guns being allowed at sporting events.
The chief concern voiced by Leding and other Democrats was that the rules skirted language in the law making it illegal to store a handgun in a college dormitory.
Under the state police rules, storage does not include when the gun is within arm's reach of the licensee. Mary Claire McLaurin, an attorney for the agency, said it was a "difficult process" to tailor the rules specifically to the law, and that the law did not prohibit carrying inside dormitories.
"A lot of people would say, 'Well, I sleep with it under my pillow, I sleep with it in my bedside table, it's readily acceptable for use,'" McLaurin said. "All of those things are what we consider possession."
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, said any rule that would allow guns inside dormitories was inconsistent with the legislative intent of Act 562. She objected to approving the rules on that ground.
That prompted Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, to raise his own objection on the grounds that the rules violated the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which he said trumps whatever the state Legislature has to say about where gun owners can carry.
The Second Amendment states: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
What followed Stubblefield's objection was a quagmire of motions and questions about what the Legislative Council was actually asked to vote on. At one point, Elliott and Stubblefield tried to merge their objections into one, before deciding to move on with two separate votes about whether either senator had grounds to object to the rules being approved.
Stubblefield's motion sank on a voice vote. Faced with no other way to oppose the rules, he and several other Republicans then voted in support of Elliott's objection, which failed by a vote of 24 to 12.
With the objections voted down, the rule was approved.
After the meeting, Ballinger reiterated that he wanted use the fiscal session in February to "clean up" language in the gun law to allow instructors to forgo teaching the enhanced courses. He said that because those instructors have six months to get certified to teach the enhanced course, none of them should be affected if they decide against doing so before the fiscal session.
Fiscal sessions are held to consider only appropriations bills. Two-thirds of each house must agree to consider a nonappropriation bill during the fiscal session. The next fiscal session starts Feb. 12 and is to last 30 calendar days unless extended by three-fourths vote by both houses.
Democrats will look to bring up their own changes to the campus-carry legislation, namely the issue of carrying in dorm rooms, during the fiscal session, said Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock.
Both he and Leding said they would need to do more research before deciding where they stand on the concerns Republicans raised regarding what courses instructors have to teach.
A Section on 12/16/2017
Print Headline: Campus gun rules approved by panel; Firearms in dorm rooms stir debate