- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas’ gun-free zones would drastically shrink under a bill to allow concealed weapons at bars, churches, schools, polling locations, local government meetings, the state Capitol and other prohibited places.

Republican Rep. Dan Sullivan of Jonesboro said Tuesday that his omnibus gun bill modifies various sections of state law to expand on places where people with concealed carry licenses can bring their weapons.

The bill would allow K-12 faculty or staff to bring their firearms onto school property but not into classrooms. It would allow firearms at sporting events not hosted by schools or universities. Liquor stores, highway department buildings, and the Arkansas Justice Building where the state Supreme Court meets would no longer be gun-free areas.

“It’s an issue of personal freedom and personal rights and allowing law-abiding qualified people to carry in more places,” Sullivan said.

It would still be illegal for most people to bring concealed guns to law enforcement offices, jails, prisons, courtrooms, airport passenger terminals and places prohibited by federal law.

Sullivan said the change was suggested to him by constituents, some of whom don’t feel his proposal goes far enough. He said he’s trying to strike a balance for what’s appropriate for the state.

“It’s intended to be a starting place for conversation,” Sullivan said. “To say this bill will pass as-is is not reflective of the reality of where the state of Arkansas is right now.”

Sullivan said he has been meeting with educators and others on potential amendments and isn’t sure when the bill will go before committee. He didn’t comment on what specifically he expects to be changed.

Other gun bills have gained traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature. A proposal to force public universities to allow guns on campus cleared a House committee Monday, and a lawmaker has filed a “stand your ground” bill to expand the legal justifications for someone to use deadly force in self-defense rather than retreating. Republicans are hopeful that their numbers combined with a governor with strong National Rifle Association ties will result in a pro-gun session.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson headed a NRA committee that studied ways to improve classroom safety after 20 children and six educators were fatally shot in 2012 at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. A Hutchinson spokesman declined to comment Tuesday on Sullivan’s bill.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Mark Martin said his office would have no problem implementing the bill if passed.

House Minority Leader Rep. Eddie Armstrong, D-North Little Rock, acknowledged his party is split on gun issues and questioned the need for rolling back established restrictions.

“I don’t hear a lot of businesses or campuses or school houses saying, ‘please please pass gun legislation that says bring it into our bars, bring it into our courts or into our schools,’” Armstrong said.

At least one organization opposes the bill.

“When we send our kids to school, we send them to thrive in a safe learning environment. Guns in our K-12 schools is a non-starter for moms in Arkansas,” said Austin Bailey a volunteer with the Arkansas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “Furthermore, forcing guns into bars - places where people are often inebriated and make reckless decisions - is a potentially deadly move by our state Legislature.”

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Follow Allen Reed on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/Allen_Reed

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