UA Chancellor opposes controversial campus carry bill

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Arkansas Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, appears determined to allow more guns on college campuses in Arkansas, whether administrators of those institutions want them there or not.

State Rep. Charlie Collins

Collins on Monday filed House Bill 1249, a revised version of his 2013 bill currently in place in Arkansas that requires universities to allow licensed faculty and staff members to carry concealed weapons on campus unless the universities themselves adopt policies to disallow them.

Collins’ new bill, however, removes the provision allowing universities to opt out, effectively requiring universities to allow “campus carry” despite the belief by the leadership of those universities that the presence of those guns do not create a safer environment for their students. In fact, all 33 eligible universities have adopted policies disallowing campus carry and renewed them every year in response to Collins’ original bill.

Collins has said he believes increasing the amount of guns on campus will in fact make them safer, serving as a deterrent to those who would seek to carry out shootings or other acts of violence.

“In my view, we have a problem in America where crazy killers go to public places to kill people so that the media gets [the criminal’s] manifesto out there,” Collins told UA student newspaper the Arkansas Traveler last week. “Knowing that someone has a gun will deter crazy killers and help protect our loved ones on campus.”

Critics of Collins’ proposal disagree, fearing an increase in armed individuals on campus during an active shooter situation could cause confusion for law enforcement, among other concerns.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said in December that he supports the current law which allows universities to make their own policies regarding guns on campus.

“They have the opportunity to opt out of the campus carry,” Governor Hutchinson said at a news conference Dec. 20. “That’s the law right now and that’s what I think is a very workable arrangement.”

Joseph Steinmentz, chancellor at the University of Arkansas, issued his own response to the bill on Tuesday citing several concerns.

UA Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz

The University of Arkansas agrees with the governor’s position that the current law allowing local boards of trustees to disallow the carrying of guns on campus is working and doesn’t need to be changed.

Our own law enforcement officers do not believe that the campus would be safer if guns are permitted. We have serious concerns about increasing the number of armed individuals posing a significant threat, particularly in an active situation when officers must make immediate determinations about who is a threat.

Also, though not as important as the safety of campus, a campus carry bill has the potential to negatively affect the recruitment and retention of students, faculty and staff.

Steinmentz and Hutchinson aren’t the only ones who are wary of Collins’ proposal.

State Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, has been outspoken in opposition to the idea of guns on campus, with dozens of interactions with constituents on the subject posted to his Twitter account Tuesday.

“Law enforcement doesn’t want #HB1249,” Leding posted. “Students don’t want it. Parents don’t want it. The district I serve doesn’t want it.”

Leding said it’s not just those who don’t like guns that are opposed to the measure, either.

“I’m hearing from a lot of gun owners who don’t support #HB1249,” he said. “Opposition isn’t about guns. It’s about bad policy.”

In addition, about 125 people showed up to the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce’s legislative forum last Friday to voice their concerns on the subject. Doug Thompson of the NWA Democrat Gazette wrote last week that roughly two-thirds of attendees at the forum raised their hands in opposition of the bill.

Collins, however, remains undeterred, and with his fellow Republicans holding a three-quarters supermajority in the House including the majority on every committee, he fully expects the proposal to pass without revision.

Even opponents of the measure fear Collins is right.

“I hope and pray we have a miracle,” Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville, who opposes the measure, said at the chamber forum last week.

The bill is expected to be discussed by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 31. If it is ultimately approved, it would take effect in September 2017.