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HOT SPRINGS -- The Garland County Quorum Court voted Monday night to allow county employees with concealed-carry permits to take firearms to work.

Justices of the peace defeated repeated motions to give the plan more consideration before voting 9-3 in favor of it. Justices of the Peace Denise Marion, Dave Reagan and Ellen Varhalla voted against the ordinance.

State law requires such an ordinance to be read on three occasions before it can be adopted, unless two-thirds of the quorum court agrees to suspend the rule. Marion's first motion failed 10-2, with her and Reagan voting in the minority. The second motion failed 9-3, with Varhalla joining Marion and Reagan in the minority.

Reagan's subsequent motion to table the ordinance for further consideration failed 10-2.

"What message are we sending citizens who conduct business at county offices when they're served by an armed clerk or elected official?" Reagan read from a prepared statement. "Will we post signs at county offices warning taxpayers they'll be served by an armed employee?

"We are a modern, civilized society, not the lawless Wild West of the 1800s."

A 7-5 vote defeated Marion's amendment requiring county employees with concealed-carry permits to receive annual live-fire and simulation training before they could take a firearm to work. A separate amendment that also was defeated would have required employees to biannually attend the Civilian Response to an Active Shooter course offered by the Garland County sheriff's office.

Section 4 of the ordinance requires the course to be attended only once before licensed employees can take firearms to the building or facility where they're "assigned to perform their job duties."

"The one thing that makes a difference, and upon which there is no disagreement, is that training improves both the safety of those involved in active shooter situations, and the likelihood of a good outcome," Marion read from a statement.

Marion argued that research supporting the majority's position of more guns making the workplace safer is flawed. She said statistics that both sides of the debate use to support their arguments are inconclusive because research on gun violence hasn't received federal funding in many years.

"Only our bias determines whether or not we can depend on these conclusions or those of any given study," she said, referring to statistics cited by gun rights activist John Lott.

Justice of the Peace Larry Griffin told Marion that not arming employees at the Garland County Courthouse may make sense in light of the armed court security officers who man a metal detector at the only public entrance, but not at county buildings that are less secure.

"There is an annex building with an assessor, tax collector and state people," he said. "They don't have any detectors for people to go through. They are vulnerable. There are other county buildings that are vulnerable also."

Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs, told the Quorum Court that legislators who were elected officials at the county level championed the legislation that authorizes county employees with permits to carry concealed weapons. Gates was one of 74 House members to vote for Act 1259 of 2015.

It amended the "Prohibited Places" section of the state's concealed-carry law, Arkansas Code Annotated 5-73-306, to allow elected county officials and county employees with concealed-carry permits to take firearms into county facilities that are their "principal" places of employment.

"It wasn't pushed by gun lobbyists," Gates said, reacting to Reagan's prepared remarks that attributed the legislation to the gun lobby. "It was pushed by a majority of legislators who've served in previous quorum courts and as county judges, assessors, treasurers and collectors."

The legislation originated with Senate Bill 159 sponsored by Linda Collins-Smith. The Pocahontas Republican was a member of the Arkansas Ethics Commission before joining the Legislature. The legislation's primary House sponsor, Tim Lemons, R-Cabot, previously served on the Lonoke County Quorum Court.

NW News on 10/16/2016

Print Headline: County workers get OK to carry firearms

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