GUNS MEAN FREEDOM: The NRA's Chris Cox (left) at today's press conference. Governor Hutchinson and Rep. Charlie Collins are at center and right, respectively.
After today's press conference
marking Governor Hutchinson's signing of House Bill 1249, reporters spoke with Chris Cox
, the executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action. (The NRA-ILA is the lobbying arm of the NRA.)
HB 1249 creates a new class of "enhanced carry"
permit that would allow gun owners who have undergone some additional training to take concealed weapons into many places previously disallowed under state law, including Arkansas college campuses, the state Capitol, courthouses, bars and churches. It leaves intact prohibitions on concealed carry in a few places, such as courtrooms, prisons and K-12 schools. Private colleges and private property owners (including bars and churches) could still prohibit guns if they so choose.
The question for Cox is how the bill stacks up against other states and the NRA's national vision as a whole. Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville)
, the original lead sponsor of HB 1249, said during the conference that he hoped the bill could become a "national model" for other states. But, although Cox celebrated the bill signed into law, he indicated it doesn't go far enough in his organization's estimation.
"This is an effort to remove roadblocks between law abiding people and their ability to exercise a fundamental right," Cox said. "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."
Ultimately, Cox said, the NRA's goal is "to have a Supreme Court that rules on the right of law-abiding Americans to own guns and use guns for any lawful purpose, whether it’s for hunting or sport shooting or lawful self-defense."
That goal includes allowing "law-abiding people" to carry guns "anywhere they have a legal right to be," which would seem to indicate Cox believes K-12 schools and other places should also allow concealed carry. "The question becomes ‘Is there a place where law-abiding people can’t or shouldn’t be trusted to defend themselves?' and I don’t believe there are places. Of course, there are everyday exemptions to those sorts of philosophical approaches: You’re not going to carry a gun into a secure area where the President is, because the Secret Service is not going to allow that." Cox stressed the "law-abiding" distinction: "Now, can people lose those rights? Of course. That’s called the criminal justice system, and we don’t support the rights of criminals to do anything. Criminals don’t have rights. They’ve lost those when they decided to break the law."
Another point of disagreement between the NRA and the bill concerns training. HB 1249 requires enhanced carry permit holders to take additional training, including training in an active shooter scenario. (In the months ahead, the Arkansas State Police will work with law enforcement agencies and private firearms instructors to establish requirements for the curriculum and the application process, ASP spokesman Bill Sadler said today.)
But required training seems to infringe upon the NRA's belief that the Second Amendment guarantees an absolute right to gun possession. "There can be recommendations … but training mandated by the state or federal government has never been a benefit," Cox said. He referenced Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado), who amended Collins' legislation to make it broader and who is a former Green Beret. "Should he have to go and sit with a bunch of 21-, 22-year-olds and go through training when he’s already carried a gun in defense of our country? It’s asinine and stupid to ask people like that to have to go through training," he said.
Cox said the NRA does "more than any group in America, including the government, in teaching safe and responsible gun ownership" and supports "the idea of training, certainly — if you’re a gun owner, you should own it safely and responsibly and practice as often as can. But having some government bureaucrat tell you how often that’s going to be, what the parameters are going to be? And, if there’s a cost associated with it, that ultimately becomes a poll tax."
Asked how Arkansas now compared with other states regarding gun laws, Cox told reporters that "there are about a dozen states" that allow concealed weapons on campus. Pro-gun legislation has been on the march around the nation for decades. "Thirty years ago, there were about a dozen states that allowed for a concealed carry permit process. Now, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have some form of carry permits, some better than others."