Forums prepare Arkansas campuses for guns after concealed-carry law expanded

Posted: October 28, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Kassandra Salazar (left), a sophomore at the University of Arkansas from Rogers, speaks Tuesday, April 5, 2016, to a group of 11th-grade students from Heritage High School in Rogers as they walk past Old Main while on a tour of the university campus in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- College faculty members continue to express unease with the idea of guns being allowed on campus as an expanded concealed-carry law that officially took effect Sept. 1 comes closer to implementation.

"I'm not trying to be dramatic here, but I feel very unsafe. Very unsafe that a student in one of my classes might have a weapon, and I don't quite understand how I can do my job if I feel unsafe," Bill McComas, a University of Arkansas, Fayetteville education professor, said at a forum on the topic held Thursday in the university's Old Main building.

Lawmakers earlier this year approved an expansion of concealed carry to the grounds of public colleges and universities, as well as other areas, for those with an enhanced license. To be eligible for the enhanced license, applicants generally must be at least 21 years old.

But Act 562 of 2017 gave police 120 days from when the law took effect, Sept. 1, to create rules for a training program.

The release of draft licensing and training procedures earlier this month provided more insight about when licenses might be issued. The guidelines stated that firearms instructors would need, as of Jan. 1, to pass a test before offering enhanced training. No licenses will be issued until the training program is complete.

A public hearing to collect comments on the draft rules is scheduled for Tuesday at state police headquarters in Little Rock.

Since the law was passed, schools have offered sessions to update faculty and others on campus about the law, which was approved despite statements from public university leaders against allowing guns on campus.

"I'm not happy about it," Mike McDaniel, a communication disorders professor at Arkansas State University, said in a phone interview. "Nobody wants to be sitting in a class with 30 or 40 freshmen or sophomores out there, worrying what's in their boot or in their purse."

But with the change, schools have held informational sessions about the law. McDaniel, chairman of the Jonesboro campus's Faculty Senate, said an attorney with the ASU System spoke to faculty in mid-August about "where we were at that time" after the law's approval. McDaniel said he has another presentation on the topic scheduled for an upcoming Faculty Senate meeting.

"It's time," McDaniel said.

At the UA forum Thursday, Matt McCoy, an associate general counsel for the UA System, said state police are seeking feedback on the proposed training guidelines, which are available at asp.arkansas.gov/publications.

The draft procedures outline a proposed six hours of study and a "livefire proficiency test" for concealed-carry holders seeking the enhanced license, among other guidelines.

"I would encourage all of you to look at that, and if you have comments or questions, to submit them," McCoy said.

On a college campus, "the environment is different, the concerns are different, the circumstances are a little different," McCoy said. The state police are accepting written comments until Nov. 10.

The law includes some exceptions for where enhanced license-holders may not carry guns, including grievance and disciplinary hearings. Guns also may not be stored in dorms, among other exclusions including college athletic event sites with security plans approved by state police.

Metro on 10/28/2017