LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ Republican governor said Monday that he doesn’t believe the state needs to require schools to have an armed presence on campus but said districts should be able to apply for state facilities funding to pay for security upgrades.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he didn’t see a need to mandate armed guards or staff at schools as he accepted the final recommendations from a panel he formed this year to look at ways to improve school security. Hutchinson formed the Arkansas School Safety Commission in response to the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 students and staff members dead.
“The final decision should be made by the local school district and local school leadership,” Hutchinson said at a news conference announcing the panel’s recommendations. Hutchinson noted that the panel found most Arkansas’ school districts already have a school resource officer, while others have administrators, faculty or staff who are trained and armed.
Like a preliminary report that was issued by the panel over the summer, the 30 final recommendations provided few specifics on cost. It called on state leaders to push for the federal government to allow an existing block grant program to be used for school safety improvements. Hutchinson said he also supports allowing state school facilities funding to be used for security upgrades, but said it was unclear whether that would require a change in state law.
The report also called for changes in how schools address mental health and other issues. It called for districts to conduct “school climate surveys” to help identify and deter bullying and other negative behavior.
“I believe this is a report that is not going to sit on anyone’s desk without action,” he said.
Hutchinson spearheaded an effort by the National Rifle Association that called for trained, armed staff at schools after the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 26 people. He also signed legislation last year that expanded where concealed handguns are allowed in the state.
He said he thought it was wise that the panel didn’t address broader legislation, including proposed “red flag” laws Democratic lawmakers have said they’ll call for next year that would allow the temporary seizure of guns from Arkansans if they’re found to pose a threat to themselves or others. Hutchinson hasn’t ruled out backing such legislation, but said he hasn’t seen any proposal that has due process protections he thinks would be necessary.
“This commission focused on schools, and red flag laws are much broader than the schools,” Hutchinson said.