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Arkansas could allow guns inside college football, basketball games

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed into law Wednesday a measure that could allow for concealed carry at college sporting events. The Arkansas Senate voted Thursday to add an exemption to the law to exclude collegiate sporting events from the measure. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed Wednesday a wide-ranging gun rights bill that allows guns to be brought into college sports venues, including football and basketball games.

The bill, which will go into effect Sept. 1, allows for Arkansans with a concealed carry handgun license who complete an eight-hour active-shooter training to carry in many public locations, including bars, state colleges and government buildings, according to The Associated Press.

"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 during a news conference Wednesday.

However, the Arkansas Senate voted 22-10 Thursday to add an exemption to the law that would exclude sporting events from the areas where concealed carry would be allowed. The bill now moves to the House.

"It's one of those areas where I don't think the value offsets the risk," Senate Majority Leader Sen. Jim Hendren (R) 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."

It also exempts the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the state hospital.

Arkansas state Rep. Greg Leding (D), who represents the district that encompasses the University of Arkansas, said the new law is "horrifying."

"People like to have a good time before the game," Leding told The Associated Press. "During the game, people get emotional and angry."

"I think the idea of introducing loaded weapons into those situations is just ridiculous," he said.

Hutchinson responded to that line of criticism Wednesday during his news conference, according to Arkansas Online.

"A bad guy could get a gun into Razorback Stadium now," Hutchinson said. "Under this current law, if you have got the enhanced training, then you would be able to go into that facility."

In a column for Fox Sports, Chris Strauss encouraged the NCAA to "take a strong stand" against allowing guns in stadiums.

"As it stands right now, fans at Razorback Stadium are not allowed to bring in beach balls, umbrellas or baby strollers, but by the 2018 season they will be able to bring in licensed firearms that could potentially fatally wound fellow spectators, players and officials," Strauss wrote. "And even if every gun owner packing heat inside the stadium happens to be a responsible one, is it fair that coaches and players not only have to worry about protecting themselves from opposing defenses but from any number of safety hazards in the stands?"

Strauss wrote:

While the NCAA didn’t impact events at individual universities in the state with their reaction to North Carolina’s 2016 HB2 “bathroom bill,” they did pull seven championship events in 2016-17 with over 100 more in the next four years in jeopardy at a cost of reportedly over $250 million in lost revenue to the state.

If the governor and state representatives in Arkansas who voted for the bill wouldn’t listen to their university chancellor about the common sense risks of arming a portion of sports fans at live events, maybe they’ll listen to the threat of having their teams (and massive revenues) forced to play every game out of state until the law is repealed. Or at the very least altered to keep guns out of stadiums and arenas.

It’s on the NCAA to make them hear it.

The state's public colleges have opposed the legislation, but spokespeople for the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University said Wednesday they will work to comply with the law.

"While we have expressed concerns regarding the bill, we recognize the General Assembly has spoken, and we will begin preparations to comply with the law when it goes into effect this fall," said Bill Smith, a spokesman for Arkansas State University at Jonesboro.

Steve Voorhies, a spokesman for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, said the school "will work collaboratively with the UA System as it establishes policies, guidelines and practices that align with the law as it affects our campus."

Republican state Rep. Charlie Collins said that  the bill signed Wednesday "is increasing the safety of Arkansas by deterring some of these crazy killers from closing to go to our campuses and potentially murder people," according to Arkansas Online.

"This is not a panacea. I don't pretend that it is. Bad things can happen. There is no such thing as a perfect solution, but I believe it is going to move us in the right direction," Collins said.

The National Rifle Association dropped its support for the bill when language was added to exclude campus carry to people under the age of 25 and from those who do not complete up to 16 hours of training, The Associated Press reported. However, it did support the version Hutchinson signed.

"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 Wednesday.

An Arkansas Online poll shows an overwhelming majority of its readership opposes allowing guns at college sporting events.

[graphiq id="dIPvhz3EF93" title="Gun Laws by State" width="600" height="723" url="https://w.graphiq.com/w/dIPvhz3EF93" ]

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