The leaders of Southeast Arkansas College and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff oppose a bill that would permit faculty and staff to carry guns on campus if they have a concealed handgun license.
One local firearms instructor and law enforcement officer supports the bill, believing it will save lives in the event of an active shooter.
The Arkansas House voted Thursday to require public colleges and universities to allow concealed handguns on campus, a move that comes after no schools opted to do so after a 2013 law that left the concealed carry decision up to them. The proposal now heads to the majority-Republican Senate.
Republican State Rep. Charlie Collins sponsored the bill and said that making it mandatory would help deter potential mass shooters and would supplement existing campus security.
Southeast Arkansas College President Stephen Hilterbran opposes this bill, calling it ill-advised and contending it will unnecessarily endanger the lives of police officers if they respond to a gun-wielding perpetrator.
“If this was the federal government, I think our legislative politicians would say it is overreach,” Hilterbran, who has a doctorate degree, said. “I think everyone believes in local control so different colleges and universities could opt out. The previous law had the opt-out provision so the board would have the say in whether people could walk in the office with a concealed gun. I think it is really wrong. I do not understand why it is okay for a gun to be in my office but not in Mr. Collins’ office.
“Our trained officers qualify on the range and receive active shooter training to get a concealed permit. When our officers get up in the morning and pick up their gun, they think about what they are going to do today. We have armed security officers at SEARK. They go through active-shooting training. I hope they have the strength of character that if something happens, they find the shooter and shoot them before that shooter shoots our officer. When our instructors wake up in the morning, they are thinking about how to teach. They do not think about a crisis situation unless you have had training. Even with training, people make mistakes. This bill puts our officers in danger. [Apart from this bill] They enter a dangerous situation with a gun they know who the perpetrator is. If they hesitate, they are shot dead.
“It seems like anywhere you have more guns, there is always more risk of accidents or poor judgment. That could have greater consequences. A couple people get into a fist fight get a busted lip. That is one thing we do not want on campus. With guns a lot worse things than a busted lip can happen. We do not want guns in our welding lab because of the dangerous chemicals. We oppose guns in the human resources for faculty who may be getting fired. I do not think any of us make good decisions when we are upset or angry.”
Hilterbran noted that educators work on campus everyday, whereas legislators do not. Accordingly, they should allow the school’s trustees to make important decisions.
“We certainly would not tell a banker, or insurance professional what is best for their business because we are not at their business everyday,” Hilterbran said. “But [legislators] are comfortable telling us what is best for our city, state, and campus.”
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Chancellor Laurence Alexander took part in a forum last week regarding current issues in education. He was asked if Collins’ bill becomes law, would he and other educational leaders begin to talk about how this might change their procedures on campus.
“We’ve been engaged in conversations about just how we would handle this scenario,” Alexander, who has a doctorate degree, said. “We’ve got the chief of police who is here with us today, Chief Maxcie Thomas. We have really struggled with this, because it is a most unfortunate bill. It is, and it involves, folks on your campus who you might not know who they are, who are carrying a loaded, concealed, dangerous, deadly weapon. We don’t know how many will do that. There’s a whole lot we don’t know. And so, protecting against that makes it very, very difficult and challenging. I have not seen evidence that we have studied all of the unintended consequences that may result from this kind of carrying or concealed carrying of a dangerous and deadly weapon on campus.
“We like to call it concealed carry because we’re leaving out the fact that this is a hidden, loaded, dangerous weapon. And it’s being held around people in an environment of learning. This is an environment of higher learning. And in an environment of higher learning, my specialty being First Amendment law, is an area where we like to have free, and open, and uninhibited, robust debate. And in those kinds of environments, things get a little heated. Things get a little testy. Do you want to bring that down in an educational environment, to where there is an atmosphere of fear, where people are afraid to say something because they don’t know if the person next to them in the room is carrying a concealed, dangerous and deadly weapon?”
Alexander objects to the bill also because it removes local control.
“And I thought that was an important issue in our legislature and in our houses of our congress,” Alexander said. “That local control was more important than one’s own personal beliefs in one amendment to the constitution. We believe in the First Amendment to the Constitution and we like to have free and open debate on our campuses. But we also like to have it outside of an atmosphere of fear on our campuses. By my count, most of the, or all the, presidents and chancellors that I’ve talked to are opposed to this. The chiefs of police of the campuses are opposed to this. Other experts in higher education are opposed to this. So why are we having it?”
Ed Monk, an employee of Hunter’s Refuge in White Hall and a White Hall police officer, supports the bill. Monk is also co-owner and instructor of Last Resort Firearms Training, north of White Hall.
“I think this bill pushes us in the right direction but I don’t think it goes far enough,” Monk, who served in the U.S. Army for 24 years, said. “It’s probably all that Representative Collins thought he could get at this point.”
” … It does not allow students or visitors to defend themselves,” Monk, a former deputy sheriff in Jefferson County, Kentucky, said. “They are still totally defenseless.”
Monk disputes the notion that a gun-carrying good samaritan would be mistaken as the perpetrator by police officers. Monk said violent killers choose a location that prohibits guns even if they are concealed.
“[Shooters] almost always pick a place where people can’t defend themselves,” Monk said, citing hospitals, universities, and schools.
Monk believes that allowing people to carry guns in a concealed fashion enables them to neutralize or kill the shooter. He said that police response times do not reflect the true response time because there is unaccounted time between a perpetrator firing a gun and a person calling 911.
“Every single place where an active shooter has begun shooting and there is an armed cop or civilian present, we have a single-digit victim count,” Monk said. “… Yet every place where there is an active shooter and we have to call on someone to fix it, we have double-digit and triple-digit [victim counts].”
Monk said he will offer free concealed carry classes if the bill passes.
If this bill becomes law, Arkansas will join a handful of states mandating schools to allow concealed handguns. Two states, Colorado and Utah, force colleges to allow all permit holders to carry on campus while seven other states require schools to allow concealed guns in certain circumstances, according to the national advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.
“I’m recommending to you that we allow faculty and staff who have a concealed carry permit to carry on campus, not to create more gunfights at the O.K. Corral but to deter some of the gunfights that we might otherwise have,” Collins said before the vote.
Collins’ proposal exempts the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Clinton School for Public Service, which is located next to former President Bill Clinton’s library in downtown Little Rock. It also would not allow students to carry and would not allow concealed handguns at day cares on college campuses.
Opponents of the measure asked why the current system of allowing colleges to make the decision themselves is not working.
“Eventually, one of them I’m sure will vote to adopt it, but at least it will be a decision they have made at the local level, where people know best how to keep their campuses safe,” Democratic Rep. Greg Leding said.
The proposal is opposed by leaders of the state’s largest university systems, who have said the decision should remain with the schools on whether to allow the guns. The police chief for the University of Arkansas’ flagship campus in Fayetteville told lawmakers earlier this week he opposed the ban.
“Our law enforcement officers have told us that this legislation will make their jobs harder and more dangerous in crisis situations, and Arkansas professors have told us that this will change the focused learning environment they’re trying to cultivate in their classrooms,” said Austin Bailey, the head of the Arkansas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he thinks the current law is working fine, but has stopped short of saying whether he opposes requiring the campuses to allow the guns.
The measure is among several gun-rights expansion efforts to be presented to lawmakers months after Republicans made their majorities in the state Legislature larger. The proposals include requiring private employers to allow employees with concealed handgun licenses to keep their firearms locked in their cars at work. Another measure would create a sales tax holiday weekend for firearms purchases.
Staff reporter Knowles Adkisson contributed to this report.