The Arkansas House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday allowing state universities to prohibit concealed carry license holders from bringing handguns into “collegiate athletic events.” SB724 would also allow the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas State Hospital to prohibit firearms. The bill passed the House on a 71-20 vote. A previous version already passed the Senate. The upper chamber still needs to vote on a House amendment before the measure can go to the governor.
On the House floor, Republican Rep. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville said SB724 was an attempt to correct some overlooked areas of the recently signed concealed carry expansion law, which he sponsored. Collins said he didn’t know that leaving out exemptions for sports stadiums in his original legislation would be a problem.
“What I didn’t understand was how important that was going to be to SEC officials, people involved in sports, people who make decisions about where championships are played and tournaments are held, how important it could be to people who are athletic recruits and associated individuals involved in that,” Collins said.
The Southeastern Conference, a Division One college sports league, regulates games played by the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. The SEC had supported the bill as a way of correcting the new law, Act 562 that greatly expands where concealed carry firearms are allowed in the state—places like public college campuses, the state capitol and in some bars. Act 562, which goes into effect September 1st, requires concealed carry license holders to take an additional eight hours of training in order to bring guns into the new locations.
The Sun Belt Conference, which oversees sporting events for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Arkansas State University, also raised concerns about Act 562.
SB724 was opposed by the National Rifle Association, but the organization had supported Act 562.
Collins said he had received a wave of criticism from inside and outside the state on his original concealed carry legislation. He said posts on Facebook and Twitter had characterized supporters of the expansion of concealed carry as “goofballs, doofuses and idiots.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
A recent amendment to SB724 requires that UAMS, the State Hospital, or an institution hosting a collegiate sporting event to submit a detailed security plan to the Arkansas State Police for approval in order to “designate certain areas as a firearm-sensitive area” where concealed carry license holders cannot bring handguns.
The security plans, which would not be accessible to the public under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, could include details like the number of law enforcement personnel on-site, maps of entrances and exits, active shooter procedures and security communication protocol.
Institutions hosting sporting events would have to submit security plans to the State Police within five days of a scheduled athletic event and the State Police would have 72 hours to approve or disapprove the plans. Upon approval, the institution would have to post signs designating an area as a firearm free zone.
SB724 also explicitly prohibits concealed firearms in public daycare facilities. It allows private bars, restaurants, churches and colleges the option of posting signs at entrances saying they forbid concealed handguns.
House debate on the bill lasted nearly an hour. Democratic Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock, who voted for the bill, said it did not address several other apparent deficiencies in concealed carry policy. Tucker argued that additional legislation be crafted prohibiting concealed firearms in airports, community mental health centers, public libraries and high school athletic events that are held outside of state K-12 campuses, where handguns are still banned.
Rep. Vivian Flowers spoke against the bill, arguing that the SB724 still contained many discrepancies, “a bunch of holes” that the Democratic lawmaker from Pine Bluff called “one gaping hole.”
House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) made a rare move to speak in favor of SB724. He said that legislators should “maintain a consistency of logic” and acknowledge that many bills passed in the Legislature are imperfect and require additional legislation to fix.
“The process is the same as all the others,” Gillam said.
The article was edited for clarity and to reflect additional information on 3/31/17.