Representative Charlie Collins' House Bill 1077, the bill to put guns on Arkansas college campuses, has now one purpose and one purpose only: to silence the Boards of Trustees who have long and successfully overseen higher education in Arkansas.
Why do I say that?
Because for two years running, the Boards have voted unanimously to prohibit our faculty and staff from carrying their weapons on our campuses. So the sponsors of the bill have decided that it is time to remove the Boards’ power of governance on the gun-issue.
Consider the bill's history. In 2013, when Representative Collins introduced the previous campus-carry bill, the outcry against it was so great that a reasonable compromise was reached. Faculty and staff, with concealed-carry permits, would be allowed to carry their handguns on campus unless the various Boards of Trustees voted once a year to opt out of the law and prohibit concealed-carry on the campuses they governed.
In 2013, then, the amended bill made it through the General Assembly and became Act 226.
The resistance to Collins' bill, however, remained unabated and clear: over the next two years, the Boards across the state twice voted unanimously to prohibit their faculty from carrying handguns on their campuses.
So, Collins' latest version, HB 1077, simply removes the Boards of Trustees from their long-standing role of governance.
Why? Because they were not governing the way Representative Collins had hoped they would govern.
On February 5, 2015, Collins' new bill—the one that silenced the Board of Trustees—was introduced to the House Education Committee, and once again Collins' attempt to put guns Arkansas college campuses failed: it didn't get the votes required to move out of committee. The affected constituency—faculty, staff, students, and administrators—didn’t want amateurs carrying their weapons on their campuses, they made their opinions known, and our legislators listened. The bill died in committee.
At this point, Collins did what most legislators do when their bill has failed: he added the amendments that would secure the support of a few of those who had originally voted against the bill. He returned with his newly amended bill on February 27. I don't know what deals were struck, if any, to secure the needed votes, but the bill moved forward on a voice vote. The amendments were basically three in number, and not one of them, in my opinion, is substantive. (The video archive for the session is accessible here.)
- The one that took up the most time in discussion concerned the additional training for those who wished to carry their handguns on campus—training that would focus on "active-shooter" scenarios. Representative Baltz, who introduced this amendment, said that those who wished to carry their weapons on campus "have to attend an active-shooter class." Apparently, Representative Baltz didn’t understand, or hadn’t read, the amendment he was introducing. Such training is not required; the bill only says that the schools "may" require it, and that the costs of the additional training, should any school choose to require it, must be borne by the school that so chooses! It’s not even an unfunded mandate; it's an unfunded suggestion. And with the current financial hardships that face higher education in Arkansas and across America, the last thing that universities will consider in their strained budgets is "active-shooter" training, particularly in a state where the Boards have unanimously said that they do not want guns on their campuses. So this is a meaningless amendment. It only serves as a distraction from the real purpose of the bill: to silence the Boards of Trustees.
- The bill also stipulates that those who carry their weapons on campus must register with campus security or the local jurisdiction. Here is Mr. Baltz’s explanation of this amendment: “If there is a shooting on the campus, they [law enforcement] are going to be coming in there looking for the bad guy with the gun, and for the safety of the student, for the safety of the teacher, and for the safety of law enforcement, everybody has to be on the same playing field.” I must confess that the logic of this explanation defeats me. First, voluntary registration of a concealed firearm is unenforceable. Second, I assume from Representative Baltz’s statement that when the security officer arrives on the scene, he or she will have memorized the faces of those who have registered their weapons, and will be able instantly to distinguish the “bad guy” from the faculty or staff member? Or perhaps our security officers are required to memorize serial numbers too, or maybe drivers-license numbers as well, and during an active-shooter situation, request these numbers from those who are currently engaged in exchanging gun-fire? Again, this amendment does nothing to enhance campus safety, and it is badly conceived. Again, it simply distracts attention from the real focus of the bill: to remove the Boards of Trustees from their governing capacity.
- Finally, the bill designates child-care centers on college campuses as gun-free zones. Are we to take this as innovative legislation? That we don’t want loaded handguns around toddlers? This amendment, then, was simply inevitable. Parents would have risen in revolt had this carve-out not been included, and no elected official could have survived that confrontation.
So we are left again with the real purpose of this bill, the one that Representative Collins hasn't addressed in any detail or with any credibility: to nullify, on this one issue, the Boards of Trustees' capacity to govern the colleges and universities they have overseen for decades.
That, in my opinion, is an unconscionable overreach of an elected official's entrusted power.
And it is disheartening to see Representative Collins so blatantly disregard the democratic process that allows the citizens of our state to have a voice in determining our future.