- - Sunday, April 16, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Guns are big in Arkansas, but hogs and football can be bigger. The National Rifle Association took on the Razorbacks of the University of Arkansas over a law that would have enabled fans to take their guns to the game, and the Razorbacks won.

The Second Amendment is holy writ in Arkansas, which has some of the most liberal gun laws in the nation, and under a law enacted earlier this year holders of licenses to carry concealed guns who had taken eight hours of extra training were legally entitled to take their guns into public college campuses, including stadiums and sports arenas. Saloons, churches, and most public buildings, too, even the state Capitol in Little Rock. More than 200,000 Arkansans hold such permits.

This upset members of the Southeastern Conference, all from the South or adjoining states, including Arkansas, where the Second Amendment is also held precious. But representatives of the 14 members of the Southeastern Conference were afraid that guns, booze and football would make a lethal mix in places where hyped-up fans, through the haze of late afternoon and three hours or so nursing a bottle, might mistake the gridiron for the green fields of Gettysburg, Normandy or Guadalcanal.

“Given the intense atmosphere surrounding athletic events, adding weapons increases safety concerns and could negatively impact the intercollegiate athletics program at the University of Arkansas in several ways,” warned Greg Sankey, the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, “including scheduling, officiating, recruiting and attendance.”

When Brett Bielema, the coach of the football Hogs, as they are affectionately called, chimed in with his fears that recruiting players might become even more difficult, second thoughts, and sometimes third thoughts, occurred to the legislature.



“When I say to a parent, ‘I take your son’s safety to the highest degree in my heart,’” the coach said, “I don’t want to ever put that in jeopardy.” He promised to say more later, but he never had to. The legislature began fashioning exemptions to the expanded gun-rights law for sporting events. The Second Amendment was well and good, and all that, but the Hogs deprived of playing Ole Miss, or Alabama or LSU was a horror not to be imagined.

The exemptions, which legislators took care to say were only revisions and did not constitute repeal of the earlier law, were approved by Gov. Asa Hutchison and the new law was duly signed. Arkansans with a permit to pack heat can still take their guns to church, and to saloons and other public places, though not to day-care centers.

The legislator who sponsored the legislation took pains to say he only did it for the Hogs, and only because he felt he had to. Rep. Bob Ballinger, a Republican like nearly every other member of the legislature, said he thought concerns with the original law were “overblown,” but he didn’t want to jeopardize sporting events. “The issue is that maybe we took 10 steps forward, and a lot of people weren’t ready to go quite that far forward,” he said, “so now we’re taking one step backward.”

Many legislators worried that voting for the exemptions would imperil their approval ratings by the National Rifle Association, which are highly prized. Anthony Roulette, the Arkansas lobbyist for the NRA, said no decisions about that have been made. “That’s a decision our [political action committee] makes, but it’s a key vote, yes.” (Woooo, pig! Soooie!)

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