After over two and a half hours of debate, including much student testimony against the bill, it failed on a roll call vote, tied 10-10. The bill required 11 votes to make it out of committee.
Today, a bill
by Rep. Charlie Collins
(R-Fayetteville) that would allow faculty and staff of all public colleges to carry concealed weapons on campus is being discussed by the House Education Committee. Here's the live feed.
Arkansas colleges and universities are opposing HB 1077
, which would undo a compromise law won by Collins in 2013. Under the 2013 measure, institutions could opt out of allowing so-called "campus carry" by creating their own gun policies. Every two- and four-year school in the state soon adopted such a policy. Now, Collins wants to make it mandatory for state schools to allow concealed carry license holders to tote their guns on campus (private colleges could still opt out).
Collins told the Times
he's running the bill to "protect our loved ones on college campuses," and that he believes the fact most institutions of higher education are deemed "gun free zones" only makes them more of a target.
"Mass murderers in gun free zones like college campuses are a real problem that’s not going away on its own," Collins said, "[and] the best way to prevent mass murders in gun free zones is to deter killers from choosing those places … The fact that it's possible for a killer to run into someone [with a gun] would have a deterrent effect on at least some of these potential killers who would wreak havoc and murder our loved ones."
Faculty at the University of Arkansas have been speaking out against the bill in the past week. Dr. Sidney Burris
, the director of the Fulbright College Honors Program, said he was "shocked" that Collins was undoing the 2013 compromise. "We had the discussion in 2013, and it was very polarized, very contentious … I thought the opt-out solution, was really, in some ways, a compromise that had national significance."
"In the past two years, the [UA] board’s trustees across the state had two opportunities to look at this policy. All of the board with one voice unanimously agreed to opt out, and they did that twice... So I was sort of shocked when I saw, well OK, you didn't like the way democracy works for you, so you just decided to take it out of the equation." Burris said the new bill would "take out the Board of Trustees' ability to determine the fate of the institutions they govern." He noted that University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven — a four-star admiral, who's known for leading the mission to kill Osama bin Laden — has publicly opposed
attempts by the Texas legislature to allow campus carry. (Collins said "I think the people of Arkansas have elected their legislators" to make tough decisions about public safety.)
Burris also pointed out that "there has not been a mass shooting at a higher education campus in the state of Arkansas, ever. And so the solution to that non problem is to allow faculty to carry weapons? We are contemplating allowing people to have the capability to inflict lethal force upon other people … and if you make a mistake with that weapon, it can have collateral damage.
"I think it’s rather like saying ‘you never know if you really have cancer or not, so let’s go ahead and take the radiation and chemo.’"
Collins disagrees. "Obviously I can’t say there will never be an accident with a concealed carry holder, but I think that risk is much lower than the benefit of deterring killers from choosing Arkansas campuses to murder people ... the cure is not worse than the disease … I would argue that we’re putting the choice in the hands of the concealed carry license holders, and that’s a good group to make that choice." He pointed out that his bill would not allow students to carry weapons, as some legislation in other states has proposed.
He said he understands "wanting to minimize the potential for accidents" by leaving students out of the equation. "I'm personally not that fearful of it, but I understand why some people would be."
It's interesting to note that Collins primarily invokes public safety concerns, not Second Amendment rights, in arguing for this bill. "I understand the emotion on both sides … because the most important thing in the world to people is the safety of their children away from home," he said. But he believes that more guns on college campuses will ultimately make them safer places.
Burris said he has "not encountered a faculty member who has come up to me and said they supported campus carry. I've been contacted by parents whose kids are in high school and they’re very concerned. I've had students who are currently enrolled come up and said, could there be gun-free sections of the courses you’re teaching?"
"I grew up around guns," he said. "I knew how to use them and I still know how to use them. I’m not afraid of guns; I support the Second Amendment. But for the life of me, this one I don’t get."