During the recent legislative session, the legislature passed a law — Act 226 — to allow licensed and trained full-time faculty and staff to carry concealed weapons on college and university campuses. Well, sort of. At the last minute, the bill was amended to make the policy optional: the governing boards of schools in the state may vote to disallow licensed, trained carriers to carry concealed firearms on campus.
The original idea behind the bill was to protect citizens on campus from those who are (to use the technical term) crazy. In my pre-session interview with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Charlie Collins, he told me that it was no coincidence that mass shootings continue to happen in gun-free zones. The two effects of the law were designed to be 1. Preventative and 2. Protective. But both of those stated goals seem to have failed, however, when the bill was amended to make adoption of the policy optional. Up to this point, every school in Arkansas that has held a vote on the issue has voted to opt-out. If a school fails to institute a policy, faculty/staff carry will be allowed by default under Act 226, but it remains to be seen whether or not any school in Arkansas will let this happen.
This raises some interesting questions: was this bill good public policy if it doesn’t change anything and doesn’t move us any closer towards liberty? Did this bill really accomplish anything, or was it simply cosmetic in nature? And most importantly, should our constitutional rights be optional? Should college campuses be putting our Second Amendment rights up for a vote?
I tend to think universities and colleges should be little bastions of freedom where free speech, free expression, and yes, even the freedom of self-defense should be recognized — and applauded. After all, these public institutions are sustained by taxpayer dollars and are government entities. As I’ve previously explained, it’s my belief that public policies should be judged based on what they do, not on their intentions (I call it the Batman Rule).
Now that the session is over and Act 226 has been passed, I followed up with Rep. Collins for Round 2.
Question: Are there any schools or do you know of any schools that plan to opt-in to Act 226?
Anybody that’s putting on a show is not going to be participating. So are we going to have a 2-year college in the state that just quietly lets the law go into effect? I mean, that’s a possibility. Obviously there is tremendous peer pressure with professors and activists against the rule. I’m hoping, although I don’t know, that there may be a school, just so we can get some experience with the first one. It’ll be a quiet thing and after August 16th if a school has not opted out, then they’re automatically in…
Another thing that’s going to happen over time, I think, is the elections for trustees. NWACC has elections for trustees, other places have elections, and the appointments of trustees as we get a conservative governor, who generally appoints conservatives. It’s going to create a different makeup over time…But I don’t have high hopes that this is going to be a watershed year in terms of campuses implementing this brand new idea.
Question: If no school implements the faculty carry provisions of this law, is that a public policy failure?
Absolutely not. Absolutely not. This is the most radical proposal, I think, probably in America. The most pro-2A kind of a step in the eyes of people. I’m not saying in the eyes of the NRA or any of that, but just when you think about human beings. It’s the most — I think people are just straight up, ‘Oh my gosh! You’re talking about putting guns on college campuses.’ That’s like an overwhelming notion. In the country, generally, we’re actually, in most places, making them more restrictive. Here we’re talking about this idea, really in the eyes of people, a very big step. So the fact that everybody’s talking about it, the fact that boards are discussing this, the fact that overall security plans on our college campuses are being looked at tightened up, improved in general — I think that whole discussion process and the tweaks that are happening with security in general are all good things. And I think the mere discussion of it raises question marks in the minds of these crazies that it isn’t just a guaranteed, no one’s even thinking about it, no one’s got a weapon…even that I think might have even a minimal deterrent effect. Absolutely a step forward…
Now, is it what I was going for? The answer is clearly and obviously no. But why? So why step back? Well, if you go back to the Education Committee, there are 20 members on it. I need 11 votes. And I had ‘mandatory’ in the bill. And if you just read the newspaper after northwest Arkansas forums, the Republican members of the committee were saying in public in the newspaper three days before the vote they were going vote no. So that corroborated what they were telling me privately so I knew for an absolute, unadulterated fact it was dead on arrival unless I did something. So that’s why it’s not mandatory — because we were nowhere near enough votes to get it out of the Education Committee in the House.
We absolutely can look at that but the biggest issue as always is ‘what is the makeup of the legislature?’ I think I had 4 reliable votes [on that committee]. To get to 11 votes, what needs to happen? I don’t know, but we’re going to need to make some real gains in order to have enough votes to be able to seriously talk to going back to the original bill. Now, if we can, I’m excited to do that because in my view we’re the decision makers. The people of Arkansas have elected the legislature to make decisions about the rules on their property, Arkansas’s property. But I couldn’t get enough of our party mates to agree either in ‘11 or in ‘13.
I then expressed my opinion that, if no one opts-in, it’s hard to see how this bill is a success if nothing changes. Before I could ask my next question, I was cut off in order to receive a civics lesson about the ‘real world’ and the legislative process:
You’re young, so when I was young, I demanded everything now. And if I don’t get it this second, exactly what I want, then ya know the world is going to end and I understand that. I feel that a lot of times myself and of course I always wish for that. I wish I could just pound my first on the table and demand that things were the way I want them right now. But what I’ve learned is, in the real world, it doesn’t work like that. You can get something but you cannot get everything you want. The way to change the world — I’m in the business of doing that, changing the world into one that pursues our conservative policies — demanding it doesn’t work. You have to get votes because, in a democratic republic like we have, things require votes and they don’t all happen consistently. So, I just accept that and that’s the way the process works. Now, it’s completely fair to say it’s not nearly much progress as I would hope for. I couldn’t agree more with that. Not nearly what I would’ve wanted. But given the few conservative votes we have relative to what we need, I actually think we played above the rim.
By having it opt-out and having an annual repeat, I feel like we’re on path to make progress every year. The other thing that I consider success is the improved focus on campus security in general. That was not intended; I was not expecting that…
Overall, I consider that absolute progress. But if I got to smash my hand on the table and make demands of the world, is it what I would have demanded? Absolutely not, I would’ve demanded more.
Question: I understand that, and I understand the value of incrementalism perhaps more than you think I do, but at some point there has to be some measure. If the legislature passed a bill that said everyone has to buy a bicycle and no one buys a bicycle, that would be a failure, right? Because that law didn’t actually change any behavior.
Obviously everyone’s got their own opinion of how you define success and failure. If you were to say we have 138 years where no one’s even considered could anyone own a bicycle, then you said hey, now you can consider having a bicycle, someone would say that’s it’s own progress. And next year, if someone buys a bicycle, that would never have happened.
There’s two debates: one is, does everybody have a bicycle which is what I wish? No they don’t. Great, what do we do about that? Our issue is: we failed to get everybody a bicycle this year. It’s better that we might get some next year, but our goal is for everyone to have one now. What do we need to do to change that? What I’m telling you is we are so far short of conservative voices, that we’re just talking, we’re just navel gazing. What we need to do is get more conservative voices in the legislature in order to get more of this stuff done.
You can go to taxes and do the same thing. Some would say, ‘Well gosh, Collins you wrote your bill to cut income taxes $400 million. Is it a failure that you only got $55 million?’ Well, against $400 million, clearly. When I was pounding my hand against the table screaming what I want, the answer was 400 and something million. But I didn’t get that. I only got $55 million. So against the standard, the hurdle that I was going for, that I set for myself, gosh, that’s only 10 percent or some number like that. Boy, you’re a complete fail — but yeah, let’s go back to when was the last time anybody did anything? And then you have to go back to our grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather. So in that context, one penny could be viewed as success. And the real question, which is why did we fail — was it because Collins wasn’t screaming loud enough or was it because Collins was the only one screaming? And that’s the part that seems to be lost on so many of us in terms of what do we need to do to make the kind of change that we’re trying to make together. That’s a really hard thing.
The good news is, it’s clearly happening. Clearly over the last couple of election cycles we’ve seen it, even though I think we were dramatically disappointed in ‘12…But again, who are we going to blame for that? Are you going to blame me or am I going to blame you? And what good does that do us? It doesn’t do either one of us much good, does it? So, the bottom line is, we just need to pull harder, work harder, and find out what does it take to get people to vote for more conservative candidates and focus on doing that.
Final question: Would you be willing to re-visit the campus carry issue in the future if the votes are there?
Oh yeah, oh yeah. If we get the votes, if we’ve got the votes, there’s a whole — we can take much bigger bites out of the income tax. Did you know there’s not one interest group that ever said to me ‘My priority is cutting the income tax.’ Nor did an interest group ever say ‘My priority is protecting our kids on campus by allowing professors to carry.’ So whatever you’re going for that nobody’s pushing for but you on behalf of the voters, it’s a steep climb. Because what you’re doing is you’re selling ideas to people. And when they’re radical, far-right ideas like the ones I’m pushing, people get nervous. They kind of stand up and say, ‘Whoa, that’s really radical change.’
Given all of those variables, I actually felt like there was a tremendous amount of success on those two things which I think are big, big, big for the people of Arkansas, kind of against the established interests if you will. It’s not that the established interests are wrong, it’s just they’re missing some of these things that are very important. I feel great about how it all came out, even though if I were the king or something like that I would’ve demanded and got much more as a king.
We should not be naive: political reality often dampens the flames of policy fervor. Many laudable reforms that lawmakers envision never come to pass, due to unstoppable opposing forces. So with that in mind, conservatives in general should be more open to incremental steps forward and reject the “all or nothing” mentality. I get that — and I got it well before my talk with Rep. Collins this morning. However, it remains unclear whether Act 226 is an incremental step forward — or just an incremental step sideways.