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Guns now a possibility on campus

Published: Monday, March 4, 2013

Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 17:03

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe (D) signed a bill into law Friday leaving it up to individual state funded universities to decide if staff and teachers will be allowed to possess conceal and carry handguns on their campuses.

Sponsored by District 84 Senator Charlie Collins (R) of Fayetteville, House Bill 1243 became Act 226, four days after being passed by the Senate with a 31-4 vote and two weeks after the House of Representatives passed it with a 70-11 vote with 19 abstaining.

The act defines a staff member as, “a person who is not enrolled as a full-time students at the university, college or community college” and is employed full-time or is on a “nine-month or twelve month appointment” to the institution.

The act, similar to laws passed in Mississippi and Wisconsin, says the final decision on the issue lies with the “governing board of the university.” It also allows schools to prohibit conceal and carry handguns in individual buildings or locations as long as a sign readable from 10 feet away stating that “carrying a handgun is prohibited” is placed at the entrance.

ASU System President Charles Welch said the issue will not be on the agenda of the Board of Trustees meeting scheduled for March 8.

“It’s too early to tell whether our Board of Trustees will allow guns on our campuses,” Welch said. Our administration will spend a considerable amount of time providing information to the board members and helping them determine what’s in the best interest of our students, faculty and staff.”

At the time of an August 2012 article on the website for the National Conference of State Legislatures, Arkansas was among 21 states with laws on the book banning conceal and carry handguns on campus. 23 states leave it up to the universities themselves to decide, while Utah is the only state that doesn’t give secondary schools a say on the matter.

ASU-Jonesboro Chancellor Tim Hudson said he believes the previous law, which banned conceal and carry weapons on campus, had been a good policy for the university.

“We are comfortable with the language in the new legislation that would give our Board of Trustees the authority to ‘opt out’ of allowing them,” Hudson said. “I have complete confidence that our board will take input from all campus constituencies and reach a decision that’s focused on the safety and welfare of everyone.”

While both senators representing Craighead County, democrats Paul Bookout and David Burnett, backed the bill, democratic Senator Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff in District 25 was one of the four senators to cast their ballot against HB 1234.

Flowers also voted against the recent bill which lets individual houses of worship decide if they will allow conceal and carry handguns on campus. Flowers’ main concern lays in the safety of students, like her own son, attending colleges with faculty and staff who are not trained security guards, she said.

“Somebody that is properly trained to come on campus, even though it can be administration or faculty, (can) make mistakes too and they are not trained security,” Flowers said.

Flowers, who was elected to office in 2010, believes lawmakers are in a rush to respond to recent tragic events, such as the shooting of 20 grade schoolers and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.

“The talk at the national level to try and curb the violence has generated some concern that gun owners may lose their guns, which I believe is without any basis. That is not what this national debate is even about,” Flowers said. “We have to remember, we want to protect the general welfare and the safety of the public. As legislators, that’s what we need to be about. I think there are parameters for using and bearing guns beyond your home.”

The University of Arkansas – Pine Bluff, which has more than 3,200 students enrolled, is located in Flowers district. The senator hasn’t had any direct contact with school officials, but has received many emails from her constituents that she describes as “boilerplate” when it comes to understanding the issue of gun control legislation.

“They are not on point in terms of the specific legislation filed here at the state capitol. They’re generally talking about, ‘protect my gun rights; protect my second amendment rights,’” Flowers said.

 

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