No gun troubles yet, say Arkansas colleges; lawmakers hear mixed opinions

FILE - Todd Burns (left), R.J. Durham (middle) and Kaitlyn Ballard walk along a freshly stained sidewalk near Arkansas Hall on the University of Central Arkansas campus in Conway in this Aug. 23, 2011 file photo.

Guns on Arkansas college campuses haven't caused any notable problems during the first semester they've been allowed, a variety of administrators from the state's largest universities said at a legislative hearing Thursday on campus safety.

Still, some campus law enforcement officials and lawmakers remain concerned about the pitfalls of allowing firearms at universities and inside dorm rooms.

The college semester now winding down is the first since state firearms instructors began offering courses for the new enhanced concealed-carry licenses. The permits -- created by Act 562 of 2017 -- allow guns to be toted at public colleges and other public places previously off limits.

"We have not seen an issue yet on campus -- I'm gonna knock on some wood here," Capt. Chris Bentley of the University of Central Arkansas Police Department told lawmakers on Thursday.

Officials from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Arkansas State University and a handful of other colleges from around the state echoed the same sentiment Thursday. All said town-hall style meetings and seminars on the new gun-carrying law have been well-attended by students and faculty members, adding that more information sessions will be held for incoming students in the fall.

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Police Chief Maxcie Thomas, however, told members of the Arkansas Legislative Council's Higher Education Subcommittee on Thursday that he still has qualms with the new law.

Thomas said he's concerned that a permitted gun carrier could "become an active shooter" if a situation upset him. Additionally, Thomas fears that police would have a hard time distinguishing between an active shooter and gun-carrying resident in an emergency situation.

"It'd be hard to tell a good person from a bad person," he said. "It's really challenging for us."

Conversely, Henderson State University Police Chief Johnny Campbell said licensed firearm carriers could be beneficial in a shooting situation because it could be two or three minutes before police can make it to the scene.

A subcommittee co-chairman, Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, who opposed Arkansas' campus-carry law, acknowledged that no significant issues have arisen yet, but he noted that the licenses only became available in February. He expects the number of enhanced-permit holders on college campuses to increase in the fall.

He's been critical of a quirk in the rules that allows guns to be carried in dorm rooms but not stored. This means that guns in dorms must remain concealed within arm's reach of the licensee at all times. He pointed out that a gun-carrying student must take his handgun to shower or use the restroom in the middle of the night.

He plans to propose legislation to fix the issue next year, in the next regular session.

"My personal preference would be to just not allow guns in dorms at all, but I suspect the only fix that will be tolerable will be to allow [handgun] storage in dorms," he said Thursday.

Officials from the University of Arkansas at Monticello said some students have expressed concerns about sharing a dorm room with a student who can carry a gun, and administrators try to move those students to another room.

Spokesmen for ASU, UA, and UCA said they weren't aware of any such requests at their institutions.

Metro on 05/11/2018