Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a gun rights measure into law Wednesday sparking debate across the state of Arkansas.
The new law Act 562, formerly HB 1249, which has been in and out of, revised and expanded by legislature and now passed by Hutchinson, started out as a campus gun bill — proposed by Republican Rep. Charlie Collins —intended to only allow faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns at state college campus.
In a previous statement released by University of Central Arkansas President Houston Davis on Jan. 27, he said the safety and security of the university’s faculty, staff, students and visitors are of "paramount importance" to UCA and that the decision to allow concealed carry should be granted to an institutions’s governing body.
"UCA employs 28 full-time, sworn police officers who have all received Rapid Response training," Davis said. "This is a specialized, integrated training on police response in emergency events. We value the right as a university to determine what is best when it comes to the safety of our campus."
Despite previous opinions, statements and positions, UCA Vice President for Communications, Public Relations and Marketing told the Log Cabin Democrat on Wednesday that UCA officials are reviewing the wording of the measure and would follow the law as it is written.
Now, the approved measure — with a requirement of up to eight hours of active-shooter training — will allow someone with a concealed handgun license to not only be allowed on the campuses, but has been expanded to include some bars, government buildings, inside the passenger terminal of an airport, a church or place of worship, the state Capitol and more.
"This bill, in my view, reflects the will of the General Assembly and is constitutional and will balance public safety and the Second Amendment," Hutchinson said.
Concealed handguns are still banned at K-12 schools, courtrooms, federal government buildings and other correction facilities.
For private colleges and universities that do not want to allow concealed carry on their campuses, notices must be posted with the designation.
The LCD reached out to officials at Hendrix College and Central Baptist College for comments, but responses were not received by press time Wednesday.
The law will take effect on Sept. 1, but Arkansas residents most likely will not be allowed to carry into the locations until early next year because of additional required training that needs to be designed by the Arkansas State Police, who have until January.
More than 220,000 people in Arkansas have concealed carry licenses.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has expressed support and backing for the reading of the law as signed in by Gov. Hutchinson, though the gun rights group did not agree with previous amended versions.
"This step goes a long way towards recognizing law-abiding people in this state have the right to defend themselves anywhere they have a legal right to be," Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said at the news conference.
This was the third time that Collins sponsored the original campus carry bills with arguments that it would deter potential mass shooters.
The first time the proposal failed and the second time, back in 2013, state colleges were given the option to either allow faculty and staff to carry concealed guns or to opt out, leaving the decision at the local level.
"Every institution of higher education in Arkansas, has 100 percent, the last four years that this has been in effect, opted out every year," Rep. Clarke Tucker said during a town hall meeting at the University of Central Arkansas on Feb. 13.
The measure signed by Gov. Hutchinson on Wednesday has been met with opposition by multiple university officials across Arkansas.
To view HB 1249, visit http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2017/2017R/Bills/HB1249.pdf.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.