LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ two largest university systems voted Thursday to ban faculty and staff from carrying concealed handguns on campus, joining a growing number of schools in the state opting out of a new law allowing the firearms.
The University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University system boards voted unanimously to opt out of the new law that leaves the decision on concealed weapons up to colleges and universities. Arkansas Tech University’s board also voted to keep the concealed weapons off its campuses in Russellville and Ozark.
At least nine other schools around the state have voted to opt out of the guns on campus law, which Gov. Mike Beebe signed into law in March.
ASU’s board voted to remain gun-free after the chancellors of its four campuses recommended the system opt out of the new law.
“I’m confident every member of the board has carefully considered this issue, and our chancellors conferred with the appropriate campus constituencies before recommending to opt out of the new state law,” Mike Gibson, the board’s chairman, said in a statement issued by the school. “The board will consider this issue on an annual basis moving forward, but I believe that opting out is in the best interests of our campuses at this time.”
UA System President Donald Bobbitt also recommended its 11 campuses opt out of the gun law after consulting with law enforcement and campus leaders.
“I think one of the things that’s very compelling is that our campus law enforcement professionals say this is something that is not needed on campus and would not make campuses safer,” Bobbitt said.
Twenty-nine states allow concealed handguns on campus, but all but a handful leave the decision up to individual colleges and universities. Rep. Charlie Collins, the author of Arkansas’ guns on campus law, originally proposed requiring all public colleges and universities to allow concealed handguns but changed the proposal after facing opposition from campus officials from around the state.
Collins, R-Fayetteville, said he was not surprised by the schools voting to opt out of the law.
“Change happens slowly, and my expectation is that over time we’re going to see more and more schools allow this to go into effect,” Collins said. “It’s just people getting comfortable with the idea.”
Collins said he believed allowing faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns would have a deterrent effect against violence on college campuses.
Thursday’s votes won’t be the final word on the issue for the schools. The new law requires public colleges and universities to revisit their policies annually if they vote to ban concealed handguns by faculty and staff. Private colleges and universities that opt out don’t have to revisit the issue under the law.
Schools can also limit their ban on concealed handguns by faculty and staff to specific buildings or areas of campus. The law doesn’t allow staff members who also are full-time students to carry concealed handguns. It also prohibits storing handguns at dorms and residence halls.
Other schools that have voted to opt out of the law include the University of Central Arkansas, Harding University in Searcy and Henderson State University in Arkadelphia.
Even more are on the way. The board for Ouachita Baptist University is set to vote on a recommendation to opt out when it meets June 13. The president of Southern Arkansas University has also said he’ll likely ask his board to opt out of the new law when it meets June 30.