HB 1077, the bill that would have armed faculty and staff on Arkansas college campuses, failed in committee on Thursday, February 5. The vote split, 10-10, needing eleven votes to pass. The bill would have replaced Act 226 (2013), which offered the Boards of Trustees the sensible option of deciding for themselves whether their campuses would allow guns. After all, the Boards are in the business of governance, and they have acquitted their task admirably over the years. We have a public higher-education system that we all justifiably point to with pride. And it's getting stronger every year, despite the struggles facing higher education across the country, and particularly in the south.
In fact, during the two years that the law was on the books, every Board voted to prohibit their faculty and staff from carrying concealed handguns. The will of the people most directly affected by this legislation spoke clearly and with one voice: no amateur carry on our campuses.
Most of us suspected that the bill would resurface in some form after Thursday's defeat. Two
pieces of information have appeared recently that are important.
- This bill was supported by the NRA, the gun-industry's most powerful lobby. In their announcement, the NRA both praised Representative Collins, "who worked tirelessly to promote this legislation." The NRA also promised to work with Representative Collins to further their plans to place guns on college campuses.
- Representative Collins, in an interview Friday, said that he might re-work the current bill, reaching out to current members of the Education Committee, or as he said, "I might just add in some things expanding concealed carry to other locations that have nothing to do with colleges," a move that could justify his sending it to a committee that is stacked with Republicans sympathetic the NRA's agenda. That wouldn't be difficult to do.
Let's make absolutely certain that we understand what is happening here: if Collins can't get the Boards of Trustees to opt into his law, which they have unanimously and resolutely refused to do, then he'll take away (in HB 1077) the Boards' power to govern themselves and their colleges; and if he can't convince his committee to approve his bill, then he'll change the committee to one that conforms to his and the NRA's agenda.
Isn't there a relevant story about the little boy who, when things didn't go his way, took his ball and went home?
Except Representative Collins and the NRA aren't going home. They're moving into the state of Arkansas, lock, stock, and barrel, and I'm not speaking figuratively.
Governmental over-reach, centralized power, and the beltway agendas of the NRA, one of the nation's most powerful lobbies—these are the watchwords that govern this kind of legislative behavior.
And if this legislation is successful, our state will be the poorer for it.