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Legislation to allow guns on campus, Chancellor opposed

Submitted by KenDrell Collins on March 14, 2013 – 5:37 pm2 Comments

The Arkansas legislature recently voted to approve legislation that will permit trained and licensed faculty and staff to now carry concealed weapons at public educational institutions in the state.

House Bill 1243 was proposed last month by Republican Arkansas Rep. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville, who introduced the bill to for a third reading Feb. 25, noting that allowing concealed weapons would help deter crimes.

Following the reading, the bill cleared the House with a 70-11 vote and the Senate with a 31-4 vote.

Several measures were taken in crafting the bill to appease those who were reluctant to accept the legislation. For example, the presence of firearms on residential campus areas is prohibited.  An opt-out provision was also added to the bill for colleges that do not wish to participate. However, the decision to decline the measure is only effective for one year; the gun ban must then be readopted by the administration, if it chooses to do so.

“If the bill becomes law, we will consult our  general counsel, the chair of our board of  trustees and the leaders of the individual campuses before making a policy recommendation to the board that considers all aspects of the law,” said Ben Beaumont, spokesman for the University of Arkansas System.

One such campus leader is UALR Chancellor Dr. Joel Anderson, who said that he is opposed to allowing guns on the Little Rock campus.

“I don’t think it would make the campus safer. As a matter of fact, I think it would increase the risk of injury or death by firearm,” Anderson said.

The chancellor discussed the issue of putting faculty in a position to respond to situations for which they are not adequately trained. “My concern is that people shoot the wrong person,” said the chancellor, adding that he has close friends that carry concealed weapons. Anderson said that, in his opinion, the short training that carriers receive does not prepare them to the extent that police officers are trained.

The chancellor is not alone in his opposition to the bill. Every chancellor and president in the state opposed the legislation, particularly in its original form, he noted. “So I don’t think that anyone, any of the chancellors, will be for guns on their campus.”

Anderson asserted that schools are among the safest places to be and that bringing guns on campus poses several problems. He quoted U.S. Justice Antonin Scalia, known for his conservatism, who stated in 2008 in D.C. v. Heller, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited.”  In the same discussion, Scalia characterized schools as being among the “sensitive places” that prohibitions should not be questioned.

In response to the notion that guns will act as a deterrent, the chancellor dismissed that claim as an “undocumented hypothesis.” Although Anderson did not reveal what decision he expected the board will make, he affirmed that UALR will comply with whatever conclusion is made. Nevertheless, the bill does have a section that allows schools to restrict guns on certain campus locations.

“I think that provision of the law was in part for UAMS; where, like in the hospital, they would want to forbid the presence of guns. I suppose that, at something like an athletic event, you probably would like to forbid guns, for the sake of the referees,” Anderson joked.

The Office of Campus Housing mailed a four-question survey to some residents on March 4 in order to find out the general consensus of students on such a policy. The responses have not been published yet, but the chancellor stated he has an interest in seeing the results. But he said the survey alone would not sway him against his current opinion.

Anderson expressed his enthusiasm for the recently launched Green Dot program: “The thing I like about the green dot program is that it is in a sense an effort at the grassroots where you get members of the community realizing that as they live here and as they move around and work here, they can make a difference. They can be more than just a bystander as they see a situation developing. I think that’s good, very good.”

Other steps have been taken to insure campus safety, he says, noting that the UALR’s Department of Public Safety has 25 officers who were trained at the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy in Camden. Precautions such as increased lighting, gated entrances and enhanced alert systems are all part of insuring safety.

As for the signing of the bill, it was sent to the Office of the Governor on Feb. 26 and became Act 226 March 1.  Governor Mike Beebe has expressed his compliance, saying that he will likely sign it into law.