LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' governor signed a sweeping gun rights measure into law on Wednesday that will allow concealed guns/">handguns at state colleges, some bars, government buildings and even the state Capitol.
The measure approved by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson allows someone with a concealed handgun license to carry at the locations if they undergo up to eight hours of active-shooter training. Hutchinson chaired a National Rifle Association task force that called for trained, armed staff at schools after the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
"This bill, in my view, reflects the will of the General Assembly and is constitutional and will balance public safety and the Second Amendment," Hutchinson said at a news conference after signing the measure.
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'll be required. More than 220,000 people have concealed handgun licenses in Arkansas.
The legislation 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 NRA backed the original bill but then dropped its support when it was amended to limit campus carry to people who were at least 25 years old and went through up to 16 hours of additional training. The gun rights group supported the version Hutchinson signed into law.
"This step goes a long way towards recognizing law-abiding people in this state have the right to defend themselves anywhere they have a legal right to be," Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, said at the news conference.
A 2013 law allows faculty and staff to carry concealed guns at colleges and universities in Arkansas, but only if the schools allowed it. None of the schools has opted to do so.
The measure signed Wednesday has faced opposition from university officials, who said the decision on whether to allow guns on campus should remain with the schools. A lawmaker whose district includes the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville called the law "horrifying," and noted it even allows concealed guns at Razorback football games and other sporting events in government-owned facilities.
"People like to have a good time before the game, during the game, people get emotional and angry during the game," Democratic Rep. Greg Leding said. "I think the idea of introducing loaded weapons into those situations is just ridiculous."
The new law allows concealed guns at private establishments like bars, restaurants and places of worship — unless there are weapons prohibitions posted at the facilities. Concealed handguns are still banned at K-12 schools, courtrooms and prisons.
It also prohibits concealed handguns from disciplinary hearings on campus grounds. Private colleges and universities that do not want to allow concealed carry on their campuses must post notices with that designation. The legislation also does not cover federal government buildings.
The measure was condemned by gun control advocates.
"This legislation will make everyday life in Arkansas more dangerous," Austin Bailey, the Arkansas chapter leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said in a statement.
Senate President Jonathan Dismang said additional legislation he's filed will address some concerns about the new law. The Republican's proposal to exempt the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the state hospital has been advanced by a Senate committee. The proposal also removes the requirement that private colleges post a notice if they don't allow concealed handguns.
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