LITTLE ROCK — Lawmakers on Wednesday gave final legislative approval to a bill that would greatly expand the list of places in Arkansas where a concealed handgun can be carried.
The House voted 71-18 to concur in a Senate amendment that rewrote House Bill 1249 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville. The bill goes to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has said he supports it.
The bill began life as a proposal to require state colleges and universities to allow faculty and staff, but not students, to carry concealed handguns on campus if they have concealed-carry permits.
Collins sponsored a 2013 law that allows college faculty and staff to carry handguns but also allows colleges to opt out, and since the law was enacted every school has chosen not to allow guns on campus. Collins originally filed HB 1249 to remove the opt-out provision.
The Senate rewrote the bill multiple times after some, including the governor, advocated for a training requirement to be included. The National Rifle Association withdrew its support after a 16-hour training requirement was added, but the NRA went back to supporting the measure after the training requirement was reduced and language was added to expand the places handguns could be carried.
In its current form, the bill would allow anyone age 21 or older who has a concealed-carry permit to complete eight hours of additional training and become authorized to carry a gun at colleges, airports, polling places, athletic events, most state offices and the state Capitol.
Handguns could be carried into a bar, church or private college unless signs are posted banning them.
The bill would not allow guns to be carried into courtrooms, K-12 public schools, public pre-kindergarten programs or facilities of the state Department of Correction or the state Department of Community Correction.
Guns could not be carried into a building on a college campus where a grievance or disciplinary hearing is being held if notice of the meeting and of handguns being prohibited is posted and all participants have had at least 24 hours’ notice of the meeting.
The training course would be developed by the Arkansas State Police. Four of the eight hours of training could be waived if a person has completed the regular training for a concealed-carry permit within the past 10 years.
Collins told House members Wednesday his original intent with the bill was “to try to address a problem, which is the murders and killings that are happening on school grounds.”
Speaking against the bill, Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, said it goes too far and sends the message that everyone should be armed.
He said that although school shootings are a problem, “the biggest problem is the streets of America, where if you allow persons to have guns and you don’t have any kind of regulation, then we continue to have, instead of 50 to 100 people killed in schools in a year, you’ll continue to have 40,000 to 50,000 people killed on the streets.”
Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, voiced concern about the prospect of guns being carried into the House chamber.
“I have enough trouble controlling myself as it is,” he said.