LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas lawmakers voted Thursday to exempt college sporting events from a new state law that greatly expands where concealed handguns are allowed, moving quickly to address concerns about the sweeping gun rights measure leading to armed spectators at stadiums and arenas.
The Arkansas Senate voted 22-10 to add the exemption to a new state law that Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed Wednesday allowing concealed handguns at colleges, government buildings, some bars and even the state Capitol. It allows people with concealed handgun licenses to carry in the locations if they complete eight hours of active-shooter training.
The change , which now heads to the House, also would exempt the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the state hospital from the gun rights expansion.
The law as-is would let guns into Razorback Stadium while umbrellas remain banned. The lawmaker who called for the sports exemption noted that there's already police and security on hand for stadium and arena events.
"It's one of those areas where I don't think the value offsets the risk," Republican Sen. Jim Hendren, the Senate majority leader, said before the vote. "There's alcohol, there's people getting excited and so probably I think most people agree that maybe this is one of those areas we ought to think about before we expand the privileges."
The law takes effect Sept. 1, but Arkansas residents likely won't be allowed to carry concealed weapons into the expanded locations until early next year. The law gives Arkansas State Police until January to design the additional training that will be required. More than 220,000 people have concealed handgun licenses in Arkansas.
Hutchinson said he supported the changes to the concealed guns law.
"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," the Republican governor said in a statement.
The law that Hutchinson signed Wednesday originally was intended to only allow faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns at college campuses, but the bill expanded as it hit roadblocks in the Legislature.
The lawmaker behind the expanded concealed gun law said the exemptions approved by the Senate would undermine that measure.
"It will kill the campus carry bill we just passed," Republican Sen. Trent Garner said.
The National Rifle Association, which backed the expanded gun rights law, said it opposed the efforts to add new exemptions and said it would pressure the House Judiciary Committee to kill the Senate-backed measure.
"We support the original legislation as signed into law," NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide said in an email. "People should have the constitutional right to self-defense wherever they are legally allowed to be."
The Senate voted Thursday afternoon 22-8 to tweak the bill approved earlier that day to ensure that the UAMS exemption wouldn't exempt any other college campuses with medical facilities or clinics from the concealed guns law.
Arkansas law currently allows faculty and staff at colleges and universities to carry concealed handguns on campus if the schools allow it. None have opted to do so since that law was enacted in 2013.
A Democratic lawmaker whose district includes the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville said the changes help address some concerns, but called the expanded gun rights law "awful" and the move to swiftly amend it shows the problems it'll pose around the state.
"The whole thing just makes us look careless and short sighted," Rep. Greg Leding said.