LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas lawmakers voted Thursday to exempt college sporting events from a new state law expanding where concealed guns are allowed in a vote that one lawmaker complained was a "no-win" choice between the University of Arkansas Razorbacks and the National Rifle Association.
The proposal advanced in the House on a 71-20 vote Thursday. The Senate is expected to take up the proposal as soon as Friday.
Under the exemption proposal, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson supports, college stadiums such as the University of Arkansas' Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences would be able to designate sensitive areas where they wouldn't want people to carry concealed handguns. To prohibit concealed carry in those sensitive areas, they would have to put together a security plan for those areas and submit it to Arkansas State Police for approval.
"I was pleased with the work of the General Assembly today by making a reasonable amendment to exempt sporting events when there are adequate security plans in place," Hutchinson said. "This is a common sense approach, and I trust the Senate will concur with the amendment."
The new law's sponsor, Republican Rep. Charlie Collins, also supports the exemption and said the proposal makes a good law even better.
The law, which Hutchinson signed last week, allows people with concealed handgun licenses to carry on college campuses, in government buildings and some bars if they undergo up to eight hours of active-shooter training.
The Sun Belt Conference had said Thursday that it wants to see college sporting events exempted from the new law. Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said in a statement that he supports the proposal.
Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock are Sun Belt schools. ASU has a football stadium that seats about 30,000 people, while UALR's basketball arena seats more than 5,600.
Benson's statement come two days after the Southeastern Conference also backed the change, saying the new law raises concerns for the conference and its schools. The University of Arkansas is an SEC school.
The Southland Conference's Commissioner Tom Burnett also issued a statement Thursday supporting exemptions from college sporting events. The University of Central Arkansas is a Southland Conference school.
Republican Rep. Jimmy Gazaway spoke against the measure, saying lawmakers had been placed in a "no-win situation."
"There's probably not anything that I can imagine in the state of Arkansas that people love more than their guns with the exception of the Arkansas Razorbacks, and that's why this is such an impossible choice," Gazaway said. "My concern is that what we have before us is a choice between entertainment and a constitutional right that has been enshrined in the constitution as a sacred and fundamental right. That's the choice we currently have."
The National Rifle Association, which backed the expanded concealed carry law, opposes the change. Lawmakers are trying to approve the exemption before this year's session wraps up early next week.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America opposed the expanded concealed carry law. Austin Bailey, volunteer leader of the Arkansas chapter of the organization, says the new law goes too far and people will still be put in danger despite the changes.
"Arkansans need to make sure our legislators know that we're not happy with the mess they've made this session," Bailey said.
The governor addressed the concerns on both sides about the expanded gun law on NBC Sports Radio's The Chris Mannix Show Thursday.
"What we're working on, in the end, should be a good balance and I would ask the public to be patient a little bit," Hutchinson said. "The legislative process is not always the purest of exercises and, once we get through it, though, I think it will be a good balanced law that will protect citizens but also make sure we can continue to have our good sporting events here in a safe environment."