LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An Arkansas House panel advanced a proposal Tuesday to require the state’s colleges and universities to allow concealed handguns on campus, despite complaints from school administrators and police that the move would create more problems than it solves.
The House Judiciary Committee endorsed a bill on a 12-5 vote to require the schools to allow faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on campus. A 2013 law leaves the decision up to the schools, but so far none have opted to allow the concealed weapons. The measure is expected to go before the full House later this week.
Republican Rep. Charlie Collins, who proposed the measure, said the requirement would help deter incidents such as the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech that left 32 people dead and would provide more security to employees and students.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, let alone somebody who’s devoting his time to planning and plotting, to figure out how to adjust for a very limited number of police officers in any situation,” Collins, who sponsored the 2013 law, told the panel before the vote.
But the chief of police for the state’s largest university warned that the move would put officers on the state’s campuses in a difficult position.
“It is extremely difficult to round a corner if you have multiple guns involved, trying to figure to out who’s good and who’s bad,” said Steve Gahagans, chief of police for the University of Arkansas’ flagship campus in Fayetteville “And God forbid if we shoot the person that we should not have shot, like we sometimes do in training.”
A Democratic lawmaker echoed those concerns.
“At what point does a law enforcement officer know which person standing there with a gun is a good guy? Are they going to wear little white hats or little blue and black armbands?” said Democratic Rep. David Whitaker, who voted against the measure.
The heads of the state’s largest university systems - the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University - also opposed the measure, saying the decision needs to remain with the campuses. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he thinks the current system of allowing schools to opt out is a “workable” arrangement, but has stopped short of saying whether he opposes Collins’ bill.
The proposal would not allow students to carry concealed guns and would not allow the weapons at a daycare or childcare facility located on campus. It also includes an exemption for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and for the Clinton School of Public Service, which is located adjacent to former President Bill Clinton’s library and museum.
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