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State. Rep. Charlie Collins is nothing if not a long-term political strategist on the policy changes he hopes to see in Arkansas.

Two years ago, I suggested Collins, in his efforts to let college faculty and staff permitted to carry concealed handguns, had handed his opponents the ammunition to shoot down future efforts to make that happen. I was clearly wrong. More on that in a minute.

In 2013, Collins, R-Fayetteville, pressed for legislation to end prohibitions in state law that prevent college faculty and staff otherwise authorized to carry a concealed handgun from doing so where they spend a lot of their time, on campus. Collins has consistently argued that a college’s students, faculty, staff and administrators are likely to be the first people who must react to the dangers of someone intent do to harm in an educational setting.

Those settings, he contends, have proven attractive targets for a certain type of assailant, the kind that spends weeks or months planning their assaults and who intentionally seek out locations virtually guaranteed to be free of any armed bystanders. He often cites the 2012 Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting in which the assailant picked a gun-free movie theater to carry out his carnage.

That point can be argued all day long. There were also other reasons that assailant picked the megaplex theater. But absent a clear explanation from the shooter himself, his reasoning is open to interpretation. But questions remains: What would have been the outcome had someone there been able to respond to force with force? And did the “gun-free” nature of the theater entice James Holmes to select it as his target?

Collins suggests universities, where Arkansans send their kids to pursue their educations, create a “sitting duck” environment. While colleges and universities have made great strides in advancing strategies to respond to an “active shooter” situation, allowing faculty and staff who want to carry to do so will bolster a deterrent effect, Collins says.

In 2013, Collins wasn’t successful, at least from my perspective. Faced with opposition and the potential that his bill would be rejected, he accepted an amendment that authorized the boards of trustees at Arkansas 33 public colleges and universities to opt out of the law. Opponents were pretty comfortable that boards of trustees across the state would maintain the on-campus concealed carry prohibitions. And they were right. Not a single campus embraced concealed carry for faculty and staff. They all opted out. In 2013, I thought the much-heralded GOP concept of local control would thwart future efforts to set a statewide standard. But apparently the GOP likes local control mostly when it results in the outcome they want.

That’s OK.. Democrats aren’t any different. When Fayetteville was pressing a civil rights ordinance to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination, Democrats resisted state law changes designed to prohibit municipalities from such laws. But if the day ever comes when there’s a chance to impose a similar anti-discrimination measure at the state level, does anyone doubt the concept of local control will be tossed out the window?

I counted Collins out too soon. Clearly, it paid to get something passed in 2013, even if the local opt-out provision rendered the law meaningless. He got the concept of guns on campus into state law, then it just became a question of whether state lawmakers knew better than campus leaders as to what the state’s campuses needed. Perhaps nobody should be surprised that state legislators would eventually view themselves the wiser of the two groups.

Collins reloaded for the 2017 session confident in success because the attitudes at the state Capitol have shifted as Republicans tighten their grips on power. Last week, the House voted 71-22 to eliminate the campus-level decision-making on concealed carry and set a statewide standard. The measure is set to go to the state Senate next.

So if Collins’ measure becomes law — a likelihood, in my view — I doubt anyone will see much of an impact. Nearly 200,000 Arkansans are legally authorized to carry concealed handguns. A huge number carry only sporadically. When it’s done right, nobody knows a gun is present and there’s no cause for alarm. People who get permits are not usually prone to robbing banks, assaulting people or committing other crimes, or showing off that they’re armed. They leave that to the yahoos who advocate open carry.

Opponents to Collins’ bill have emphatically said most faculty and staff on college campuses oppose campus carry. If that’s true, this change won’t suddenly inspire professors and staff to strap on a concealed sidearm. Nothing about this requires them to do so.

The scarier folks are the ones who carry guns illegally, on campus and off.

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Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at gharton@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWAGreg.

Print Headline: Collins hits his target

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