Arkansas ConstitutionLaw

UALR Gun-Free Exemption Shot Down

A couple weeks ago, we wrote about a school principal’s plan that would largely have gutted Act 562 on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) campus.

John Bacon, Chief Executive Officer of eStem Public Charter Schools, announced that he was applying his (mistaken) interpretation of federal law to keep much of the UALR campus a gun-free zone.

Under Bacon’s theory, an eStem school is located on the UALR campus; therefore, a 1,000 foot “school zone” around every building used by students on the campus would have to be a gun-free zone.

However, the University of Arkansas System’s Office of General Counsel recently released its own opinion to the effect that Bacon’s plan isn’t consistent with federal law.

A UA system spokesman sent the opinion to The Arkansas Project yesterday.

Here is the full opinion:

Recent Acts of the Arkansas General Assembly that go into effect September 1, 2017 will allow persons who have a license to carry a concealed handgun and who have completed an additional training course to receive an endorsement by the State Police to carry a concealed handgun in buildings and grounds of a public university.  The Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas has leased Larson Hall and Ross Hall on the UA Little Rock campus to eSTEM Public Charter Schools, Inc. for construction and renovation of facilities for students of eSTEM in grades 10 through 12.  The recent state Acts prohibit a person with a concealed carry license and endorsement by the State Police from carrying the handgun in public schools, K-12.  Therefore, a person with a license to carry a concealed handgun with the appropriate State Police endorsement will be able to do so on the campus of UA Little Rock, but not in Larson or Ross Halls.  Federal law also prohibits a person from carrying a firearm in a “school zone,” which means in or on the grounds of a public, parochial or private school providing elementary or secondary education, or within a distance of 1,000 feet from the grounds of such school.  The federal prohibition does not apply to the possession of a firearm if the individual possessing it is licensed to do so by the state and law enforcement authorities of the state have verified that the individual is qualified under law to receive the license.  Therefore, an individual who is licensed by the state to carry a concealed handgun and has the necessary endorsement of the State Police will be able to do so on the campus of UA Little Rock even within a 1,000-foot radius of Larson and Ross Halls.  Likewise, there is no prohibition under federal law from a person licensed by the state to carry a concealed handgun with the necessary endorsement of the State Police to do so on other campuses of the University of Arkansas even within a 1,000-foot radius of K-12 schools, which may be located in close proximity or adjacent to the campus.  The purpose of this statement is to clarify a recent newspaper article that created uncertainty as to the applicability of the federal law to UA Little Rock and other University campuses.

So it looks like eStem’s presence on the UALR campus will only preclude people from carrying in Ross and Larson Halls, according to the UA’s legal opinion. That’s a much, much smaller area than the exemption proposed under Bacon’s original plan.

State Sen.

Trent Garner said today in an interview that he was pleased with the UA System’s legal opinion upholding the legislative intent of Act 562.

Garner said:

I appreciate the UA’s legal team and leadership taking a good look at what the law was and what the intent was. I think they reached a good conclusion to satisfy eStem’s guidance as a private company in their own buildings they’ve leased and the safety of the law-abiding citizens who get an enhanced carry to carry on college campuses. I think it’s a good opinion. It’s what my legal reading of it was. It looks like we can move forward and allow people to exercise their rights on the UALR campus.

While many administrators at public universities opposed the enhanced carry legislation when it was being debated during the previous administration, it looks like the leadership of the state’s largest university system is doing a good job so far of implementing the law before the coming 2017-2018 academic year.

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The Arkansas Project