UPDATE: Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the expanded concealed carry legislation, but some additional legislation is promised, at a minimum to exempt UAMS and the State Hospital, an inpatient facility for the mentally ill, from the expanded list of places where concealed weapons are allowed for those with a new enhanced permit that requires an additional day of training.
Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action — the NRA's lobbying arm — was on hand for the event, and the governor credited him as a force behind the bill. That was not exactly a secret. Arkansas loves the 2nd Amendment, the governor said, in proudly introducing Cox.
Sen. Jon Dismang said he'd present an amendment to provide for carve-outs for UAMS and the State Hospital. (Update: Here's the proposed amendment.) It also will allow private colleges to choose not to post a weapons prohibition. The bill as it stands requires a posting if they choose to prohibit weapons.
To questions about football games, Hutchinson confirmed that guns would be legal but said you could slip a weapon in there now as well. "If you think about it, while you might have a sign that says ‘No weapons allowed in Razorback stadium,’ there’s not any magnetometers, and so a bad guy could get a gun into Razorback stadium now. This does [allow] carry into sensitive areas, so … under this current law, if you had the enhanced training you would be able to go into that facility."
The rules won't be in place until Jan. 1, he noted.
Dismang's amendment was revealed in response to a press question, not a part of the announcement of the signing. He said it was "not to say" there might not be some other specific changes.
Rep. Charlie Collins was on hand to tout his bill as a potential national leader and to say it would reduce mass shootings — none of which has occurred to date on an Arkansas college campus. He said he'd be open to some other ideas on exemptions.
Hutchinson signed the bill in private before meeting reporters. That's a photo you might not want to have framed should something awful happen. He emphasized in public remarks that the bill doesn't open places to all concealed carry permit holders but only for those who'll obtain an enhanced permit through a training program overseen by the Arkansas State Police. "I'm convinced the public will be more safe," the governor said.
The action was condemned quickly by gun safety groups. The Arkansas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a part of Everytown for Gun Safety, today released this statement from Austin Bailey
“Being one of thousands of Arkansans fighting to stop this dangerous legislation has been an eye-opening experience. I’ve learned that our state legislators – and even our governor – listen to the gun lobby over their constituents and the people who will be directly affected by this legislation. That’s something we won’t soon forget. This legislation will make everyday life in Arkansas more dangerous. State legislators should know that passing this gun lobby priority will only motivate supporters of gun sense to get louder in Arkansas – our kids are at risk and we will not be silent while legislators gamble with their safety.”
Collins said the presence of concealed permit holders will discourage people who "plot and plan" to "mercilessly murder our loved ones." These people can't plan for "a good guy who might deter their plan," Collins said.
The NRA crowed:
"Only criminals can find safety in gun-free zones,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “By allowing enhanced permit holders to carry in more places, Gov. Hutchinson has made Arkansas a safer place to live.”
Sen. Trent Garner, who pushed for the expansion in the Senate, recounted how he had to "de-arm" himself and be unsafe when he went to college and law school after serving as a weapons sergeant on tours as a Green Beret in Afghanistan.
Hutchinson said he'd consider security enhanced by presence of people with weapons in his conference room, given that they'd have enhanced training.
After the press event, Cox told reporters that the bill was a victory, but did not ultimately achieve the organization's aims of allowing guns to be carried virtually everywhere. "We believe that if you have a legal right to be somewhere, and you’re a law-abiding person, you ought to have a legal right to defend yourself. …. This is a step in the right direction toward that recognition. Is it a full recognition? No, but it’s a step in the right direction."
You can watch the full news conference with Q&A above. What follows was written earlier today. The speculation was overheated, clearly.
BIG GUNS: Chris Cox of NRA, Gov. Hutchinson and Rep. Collins proclaim goodness of opening many more places to concealed weapons.
Original post: Speculation grows that Gov. Asa Hutchinson's 10 a.m. announcement on his decision on the campus carry bill won't be a "clean" announcement.
There are "concerns" about the bill, HB 1249. One I can see is the failure of the amended bill to prohibit concealed carry at University of Arkansas athletic events. If there's any subject that can move unmovable objects in Arkansas, it's UA football. Oh, and approximately a jillion parents of college students have told the governor they aren't happy about the thought of beer-hopped pistol packers in dorms and classrooms and dining halls.
Anyway, thoughts are growing that it won't be an uneventful bill signing. I'd still be surprised by a veto. But he might sign this on a promise that more legislation is coming to clean up "concerns." Or he might simply allow it to become law on the promise that changes are coming. A veto and substitute legislation would be a safer possibility, but the legislature might simply override the veto.
A fix would be possible through companion legislation that Rep. Charlie Collins, sponsor of the original "campus carry" bill introduced March 7. As you know, his bill grew from simply forcing colleges to allow permitted staff to concealed carry on campus to a dramatic expansion of concealed carry rights by ALL of any age with permits on college campuses, in courthouses, in the Capitol, in bars, in churches and in many other public buildings. The NRA has pronounced the bill excellent. Gun safety groups see it otherwise.
Collins' HB 2168, filed March 6 and dormant since in the Judiciary Committee, was also a campus carry bill and it could be amended into a form more acceptable to the governor, if he indeed has concerns.
NOTE: An article from Idaho, where a similar gun bill passed, raises the question of whether the NCAA will react by prohibiting championships in a state with such a bill. Some schools could refuse to play here. The NCAA's operating policies prohibit guns at tournaments. Arkansas is already at risk with the NCAA for its laws aimed at discriminating against gay people. Note, too, that even gun-crazy Texas in passing a campus firearms bill included a lengthy list of exceptions to the rule, none of which made it into Arkansas law.