LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- An Arkansas House committee advanced a measure Tuesday to exempt college sporting events from a state law allowing guns after the Southeastern Conference appealed for guns to be banned from facilities such as football stadiums.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the new state law last week allowing concealed handguns at colleges, government buildings, some bars and even the State Capitol.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the exemption measure after it was amended. Under the amended exemption, college stadiums such as the University of Arkansas' Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium and the university's Medical Sciences department would be able to designate sensitive areas in which they wouldn't want people to carry concealed handguns. To prohibit concealed carry in those sensitive areas, they would have to put together a security plan for those areas and submit it to Arkansas State Police for approval.
Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger told the panel that the changes to the proposed exemption measure were made to address concerns people had with the original bill.
"We took 10 steps forward, and a lot of people weren't quite ready to go that far forward. So now we're taking one step backward," Ballinger said.
Ballinger said that if college sporting events and the medical facilities were going to prohibit concealed carry, then they must demonstrate that they will provide the necessary security.
The National Rifle Association, which supported the expanded concealed handguns law, opposes the exemption measure in its current and previous form.
"There is no language in [the bill] that could be classified as an SEC exemption," NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide said in an email. "Instead we have a bill that eliminates a considerable amount of fundamental freedoms recognized by the governor just last week."
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said the measure signed into law last week by the governor creates concerns for the conference and its member institutions. The University of Arkansas is an SEC school, and Razorback Stadium holds 72,000 people.
"Given the intense atmosphere surrounding athletic events, adding weapons increases safety concerns and could negatively impact the intercollegiate athletics program at the University of Arkansas in several ways, including scheduling, officiating, recruiting and attendance," Sankey said in a statement.
The law takes effect Sept. 1, but Arkansas residents likely won't be allowed to carry concealed weapons into the expanded locations until early next year. The law gives Arkansas State Police until January to design the additional training that will be required. More than 220,000 people have concealed handgun licenses in the state.
The law that Hutchinson signed last week was originally intended to allow only faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns at college campuses, but the bill expanded as it hit roadblocks in the Legislature.
Arkansas law currently allows faculty and staff at colleges and universities to carry concealed handguns on campus if schools allow it. None has opted to do so since that law was enacted in 2013.