by Max Brantley
Rep. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville ran into some hostile questions in committee today on his bill to allow faculty and staff of colleges to carry concealed handguns. After lengthy debate that included strong opposition from college officials, the bill failed to get a favorable recommendation. Needing 11 votes, it got 8.
Among the critical questioners was the gun loving weapons instructor Rep. Randy Stewart, who didn't think the bill went far enough. He wants others with concealed carry permits to be able to pack on campus, too.
Collins said the bill would "protect children and grandchildren" from "crazies and nutjobs and killers."
Collins listed on-campus shootings in recent years. Terrible and unfortunate, yes. But these were happenstances that occurred on a tiny percentage of the millions of college days on which guns were not fired. And there's no showing that the presence of guns on campus would have altered the course of those events. Or future ones, which Collins conceded under questioning by Rep. Tracy Steele. "I would not pretend for a moment that this would prevent every conceivable campus shooting event," Collins said. But he said he was sure it might discourage some.
Collins said it was a major issue in his campaign and he received encouragement from staff at the University of Arkansas.
Rep. Bobby Pierce of Sheridan, a concealed carry permit holder, opposed the legislation. He said the potential of danger from accidents was great and he'd experienced schools where gun deaths occurred on campus in suicides. He also mentioned the shooting of an Arizona congresswoman and others, where the shooter was stopped by an unarmed person and people present with guns were ineffective. "Where does it stop?" Pierce asked of the movement to gradually allow more guns in public places.
Rep. Donna Hutchinson said the shooting of a UA professor some years ago made her believe teachers needed to be given the means to defend themselves. Rep. Ann Clemmer said the Virginia Tech shootings had terrified her as a college teacher. She suggested there are guns on campus now and little is done to guard against them. Rep. Debra Hobbs suggested putting more guns on campus would depress the crime rate.
Barry Ballard, head of Ouachita Technical College, said he was a gun owner, but "If we have more guns there's a likelihood we'll have more shootings." He said he'd been threatened by faculty members in his 44 years. "I shudder to think if these disgruntled people had a gun."
Sen. Jason Rapert dropped in to support the bill with some usual NRA nostrums, one of them that no gun control bill had ever prevented someone from committing a violent crime. Which has the obvious corollary: A permissive gun bill is unlikely to have a deterrent effect either. He insisted, on the strength of a dozen or so gun events, that colleges had become very dangerous places to be.
UA lobbyist Richard Hudson opposed the bill. He quoted a statement from the campus police chief. He said officers have a difficult job responding and not knowing who might have a weapon in a difficult situation and sorting out the good guys from the bad guys. ASU also opposed the bill.
Former legislator Dan Greenberg said there'd never been a serious study that showed more guns didn't reduce crime. However, among those who've said things to the contrary are Daniel Webster at the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University. Also, John Donohue from Stanford University, who studied the issue with a Yale law professor. A summary of some of the things they've said can be found here.