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Denise Garner wants campuses to be able to say 'no' to concealed carry

'Compromise is not a bad word,' the freshman legislator from Fayetteville says.


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Your race against incumbent state Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) got national attention because of his bill putting guns on college campuses. How do you use that attention to benefit District 84?

The problem was not guns. It was not a Second Amendment issue. He did something that his constituents didn't want him to do. I tried really to talk about listening and making sure we were representing our constituents.

Do you support going back to the opt-in and opt-out for allowing guns on college campuses?

Absolutely. It just became so much more than campus carry. It was pushed through without really thinking about the unintended consequences. That is something that I want to look at. If we could repeal Act 562, I would love that. ... If we can't repeal it, I certainly want to look at local control over some issues that people didn't think about. You can have a gun in the dorm, but you can't store it. So what do you do with it? Do you take it to the bathroom with you? Do you sleep with it under your pillow? Those kind of things.

Did you ever live in a dorm?

I did. I know how crazy it can be. I went to Baylor and we had some pretty strict rules about curfew and when people could come in and when they couldn't. Now there is so much leeway on some of those kinds of things that we should be giving students an option for those who don't want a roommate or guests of a roommate with guns. They ought to have control over personal living spaces. ...

I have visited the schools around here. I haven't had anyone say they feel like they need guns in our schools ... . I can't say in rural Arkansas, where they don't have security officers or police departments close by, that they shouldn't train a teacher to carry. I think that we ought to have local control.

What is your best hope for what you can accomplish as a member of the minority party in the House of Representatives?

In our everyday lives we work with people toward a common goal and don't have any idea whether they are Republicans or Democrats. I'm hoping if we start talking about the issues, and not hyperpartisan kinds of problems, that we can do that. ... [F]or the most part, the folks that are there want to govern. Compromise is not a bad word. We may not get there in a straight line.

Can you repeat the experience you told as a candidate about your patient who had to choose between her life and her unborn child's?

I [as an oncology nurse practitioner] had a patient that came in with abdominal cancer and was also pregnant. This is really before the government got involved. We had a chaplain, we had all of these folks trying to help her and her family try to make the decision about what to do. I was involved in some of those discussions. We are spending a lot of time with her and her husband discussing it really like it was just them. I walked in on the third day and she was in tears. She loved the baby and wanted the baby, but wondered who would take care of her five children at home. It still gives me goosebumps because she was schooling and taking care of her children and her husband worked at night. At that point in time, I thought, I cannot make that decision for her. It just struck home how no one can make that decision for them. She and her husband and her clergy and her God have to make that decision. ... I just don't think the government needs to get between a woman and her health care.

If you were able to wave a magic wand and pass one piece of legislation, what would it be?

I think because of who I am and who elected me, it would be a repeal of 562. It is a bad bill. It is not written well. ... I would love for Arkansas to be the first state to ratify the ERA. Everything else, I'm willing to compromise and negotiate.

— Autumn Tolbert

Name: Denise Garner of Fayetteville, Democrat representing District 84 in the state House

Birthplace: Dallas

Age: 62

Job: Retired advance practice nurse

Volunteer jobs: Founder of Feed Fayetteville/Feed Communities and Role Call (a civic engagement organization)

Hobby: Grandbabies (Jack, 3 1/2, and Emma, 1), reading and painting


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