Forum Sparks Guns-on-Campus Debate

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Six Benton County lawmakers faced tough questions at a legislative forum Saturday (Feb. 9) at NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville.

When the topic of guns came up, the debate became heated. The bill, HB1243, allowing college faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on campus is up for consideration at the General Assembly.

Republican state Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, support the measure sponsored by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville.

"It's a bill of choice,” Hester said. “If you aren't comfortable carrying a weapon, then you certainly don't have to carry a weapon."

Sidney Burris, University of Arkansas English professor, sparked the conversation by voicing his concerns.

He’s part of the newly created "Arkansans Against Guns on Campus" and said he doesn’t think arming people with little training is a good idea.

"You can carry it on campus and if you feel self-defense is necessary, you can pull it out having had a couple of hours experience with a handgun," Burris said.

Hester said knowing faculty and staff might be armed can discourage someone from a shooting rampage in what is now a gun-free zone.

"It tells somebody, if I'm going to walk into a college campus just to create travesty that there may be somebody there that is armed other than a few police officers," Hester said.

Burris said he won't feel any safer having his colleagues armed and thinks it should stay the way it has always been.

"We have an extraordinary security presence on our campus with UAPD," Burris said.

This bill heads to the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

The 20-member education committee can amend the bill, and it takes at least 11 votes for it to come out of the committee.

Jim Dotson R-Bentonville, said even though he’s for the bill, he can’t make a final decision until he knows what the changes will be.

"I have to make a decision at that time based on what it looks like, because I don't know what that will be and no one can tell you what that will look like at that point in time anyways," Dotson said.

After the bill passes the committee, the House of Representatives will vote on the measure.

Sen. Cecile Bleadsoe, R-Rogers, and Reps. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, and Debra Hobbs and Les "Skip" Carnine, both R-Rogers, also participated in the event.