LITTLE ROCK — A day after Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law an expansion of Arkansas’ concealed-carry law, the Senate on Thursday approved a bill to bar handguns at college athletic events, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas State Hospital.
Hutchinson said he supports the bill. The National Rifle Association said it will fight the measure.
Senate Bill 724 by Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, would add exemptions to Act 562 of 2017, formerly House Bill 1249 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville. The bill heads now to the House.
Act 562 allows a person with a concealed-carry permit who completes eight hours of additional training to obtain an enhanced permit allowing him or her to carry a concealed handgun into several places where guns previously were banned, including state colleges, airports, polling places, athletic events, most state offices and the state Capitol.
Dismang’s bill would exempt from the law the locations of college athletic events, UAMS and the Arkansas State Hospital, which is connected to UAMS.
The bill also would amend a provision in Act 562 that allows a holder of an enhanced permit to carry a concealed handgun onto the campus of a private college unless the college posts notices of a policy banning guns. SB 724 would prohibit carrying guns at a private college if the college has a policy banning guns, regardless of whether notices are posted.
Hutchinson said Thursday the exemptions are reasonable.
“The unique environment of a teaching hospital makes it reasonable to exempt UAMS, and the other exception for college sporting events addresses the concerns expressed by many Arkansans. Because these appear to be reasonable exceptions, I will support these amendments,” he said in a statement.
NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide said Thursday in a statement, “The NRA supports the original legislation as signed into law just yesterday. People have the constitutional right to self-defense wherever they are legally allowed to be. We adamantly oppose SB 724 and will work to stop it in the House Judiciary Committee.”
Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, who carried HB 1249 in the Senate, spoke against the bill on the Senate floor, saying it would make athletic events less safe and arguing that the measure was worded so loosely that any college with a clinic would be exempted.
“It will kill the campus-carry bill we just passed,” he said.
Dismang said he did not believe the bill was worded to loosely but offered to help amend it in the House to address that concern.
After the measure passed 22-10 in a 12:45 p.m. vote, the NRA sent an email to members urging them to oppose the bill.
“Through intentional drafting by Sen. Dismang, SB 724 would allow the entire University of Arkansas System to prohibit concealed carry,” the NRA said.
Dismang later brought the bill back to the Senate floor with an amendment identifying UAMS by name as exempt from the new law. The Senate then expunged its previous vote, adopted the amendment and approved the new version of the bill in a 22-8 vote shortly after 4 p.m.
About half an hour later, the NRA issued its statement pledging to fight the bill in the House Judiciary Committee.