Arkansas Panel Advances Proposal for Guns on Campus

LITTLE ROCK — A proposal advanced by a House panel Tuesday would leave the decision of whether to allow faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns up to college and university boards after the lawmaker behind the idea changed his bill to allow schools to opt out.

The House Education Committee approved by a voice vote the proposal that would allow the governing boards for public colleges and universities to ban concealed handguns on specific campuses, areas of campus or buildings, a provision already included for private campuses.

Rep. Charlie Collins' original proposal would have required public colleges and universities to allow faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns.

Andrew Faulkner, an athletic academic adviser at the University of Central Arkansas and a concealed-carry permit holder, told lawmakers he wanted to able to defend himself if a shooting occurred on his campus.

"In the case of a madman roaming the halls, when the shooter is six seconds away from my door and the police are 20 seconds away from my building, I want the option to be able to fight for my life and not just the option of cowering under my desk with my phone telling my wife that I love her with the possibility of my last breath," Faulkner said.

The measure is among several easing gun restrictions after Republicans won the House and Senate last year. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who this week signed into law a measure allowing concealed handguns in churches, has not said whether he supports Collins' measure.

Collins cited a number of college shootings throughout the nation, including the 2007 killings of 32 people at Virginia Tech by a student who then committed suicide, as examples of why he believes faculty and staff should have the right to carry concealed weapons on campus.

"We have a significant problem in America and the problem I'm talking about is the number of crazies and killers who select our college campuses to murder our loved ones," Collins, R-Fayetteville, told the panel. "This is a recurring problem, it's a frequent problem and it's not going away."

Collins' proposal would not allow staff who are also full-time students to carry concealed handguns, and schools that ban them for faculty and staff would be required to revisit that decision annually.

Public college and university presidents from around the state said they were concerned about the original version of Collins' proposal.

"While I understand that there are strong concerns among our colleges and universities regarding guns on campus, it is my understanding that, as amended to allow for local decision making, our institutions are not opposing the bill," Interim Higher Education Director Shane Broadway said.

University of Arkansas at Little Rock Chancellor Joel Anderson said that if the bill becomes law, he'll recommend to his school's board that it continue to ban the concealed weapons.

"I understand people who believe more guns on campus, concealed carry, would make it safer. But it's my judgment and that of many of my colleagues as well as many of our law enforcement personnel that it would not make the campuses safer," Anderson told reporters after the hearing.

The opt-out provision is similar to the guns in church law, which only allows concealed handguns if a place of worship decides to OK it. Lawmakers are considering follow-up legislation that would require churches allowing concealed handguns to post signs about that decision.

Beebe told reporters he wanted to talk with higher education officials about the changes to Collins' bill, but said he's more comfortable with leaving the decision up to colleges and universities "much more than I would have been if they had just legislated that campuses were wide open to guns. I would not have liked that."

Greyson Teague, a high school student from Hot Springs who will attend the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville next year, told the committee he believed allowing the concealed handguns would be detrimental a student's learning environment.

"The idea of one of my professors, who I don't know on the first day, having a gun kind of scares me," Teague said.

The House is expected to vote on the bill later this week.

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