Advancing Arkansas: Rep. Collins Aims for Gun Law Reforms

Charlie Collins

Rep. Charlie Collins

The latest entry in our series of interviews with returning legislators, “Advancing Arkansas,” is a conversation with Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville). Instead of asking him about his entire legislative agenda (as I have with other legislators I’ve interviewed), I asked Rep. Collins about a specific policy area and his plans for reform — gun laws.

Rep. Collins made “headlines” of sorts a few weeks ago after the horrific shootings in Newtown, CT when left-wing blogger Max Brantley baited him into saying that he plans to continue working for college professors’ constitutional rights to be restored on campus. Brantley, of course, had hoped that Collins had “had a change of heart” and given up on his constitutional principles, but he was disappointed.

As any good journalist would do, I decided to call Collins and get the full story. The result of that conversation is below.

First of all, I asked Rep. Collins to explain his “campus carry” proposal to me. Much to my surprise (OK, not really), it appears there has been a great deal of misinformation spread about the proposal. The bill would not allow students to carry on campus. It would not allow teachers to carry in dorms, even if they live there as a resident assistant. And it would not allow any teacher to carry on campus — rather, only those who have already cleared the rigorous concealed carry certification process.

Collins told me:

During the last session, I introduced HB 1479. Effectively it would allow professors and full-time faculty in Arkansas who are holders of a CCL permit to exercise that permit on the campus where they work. It changes a restriction in the CCL law.

The reason I introduced the bill because I think we can help save lives in Arkansas with this bill. The way it works in my view is twofold: I believe that today the crazy and the evil killers realize where the gun-free zones are. A lot of those happen to be where our children are. They pick these areas in disproportionate numbers because they think they can reap incredible destruction and be famous, etc. If they knew that college campuses could be protected by professors, this would deter some of these potential killers from wreaking havoc. 

The second life saver in the bill is that even if something does happen, there would be a protective effect. A killer comes into a building, goes into an area with adults, and somebody there may be in a position to shoot him before he gets to an area where the students are. 

So there is a deterrent effect and a protective effect. This bill will reduce deaths on college campuses — that’s the reason I introduced the bill.

While Arkansas has been more fortunate than some states that have endured large-scale school shootings, Collins says we have not been immune. The shooting at Jonesboro comes to mind, as well as a shooting at UCA a few years ago. Shootings at the UALR campus have been fairly frequent as well.

As for the specific enforcement provisions of Collins’s proposal, the representative says the bill would only affect private schools if they chose to embrace it.

“Private schools could choose to post [signs prohibiting carrying], but public schools would be required to allow carrying [for professors and other full-time faculty].”

Realizing that this bill does not cover students, I asked Collins if he would eventually like to see the bill expanded to include students — after all, they should have the same constitutional rights as teachers. Collins said this bill specifically does not include students, due to concerns from his constituents:

I’ve listened to concerns in the community that drunk 18 year-olds are going to get a hold of weapons in dorm rooms and create more problems than we are solving. We need to make sure there’s nothing to make that any easier. 

With that said, Collins said we shouldn’t see this proposal as a definitive ruling on his position:

I wouldn’t define this bill as my comprehensive position. This bill is a function of what is practical, what is achievable. I think this bill will be helpful for protecting human life in Arkansas.

Finally, Collins said he will be looking at ways to increase safety at secondary and elementary schools in the upcoming session, including possibly allowing those teachers to carry on school grounds as well.

One potential problem with this proposal: it could conflict with the “Gun-Free School Zone Act” which provides for a $5,000 fine and 5 years in jail for discharging a weapon in a school zone — even if you are a CCL permit holder. Collins said he is still researching the issue:

[The bill] would allow a high school principal to carry a weapon to school while they’re working,  but they could be facing prison or a fine if they fired it at a crazy killer coming in to shoot students. We don’t want to put our teachers in a bad legal position. There may be a similar bill for secondary schools as well.

As for the college campus carry bill, Collins says there will be no conflict with federal law — the Gun-Free School Zone Act does not apply to college campuses.