As Colleges Prepare for Guns, Clarksville Offers a Few Lessons

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- On September 1, a new campus carry law passed this year will go into effect, and the superintendent of a school that has had guns on campus for four years now offered a few lessons from his own experience. 

Colleges across Arkansas are preparing for when those with an enhanced concealed carry permit will be able to bring their firearms on campus, and though the law goes into effect next month, it'll likely be 2018 before guns show up at universities. 

Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, who crafted the legislation, said Arkansas State Police still have to finalize the additional training (of up to eight hours) that'll be required to get the enhanced concealed carry permit and allow a gun owner to legally carry their firearm onto campus. Until that training is designed and permit holders complete it, gun owners can't legally carry on campuses.

The media frenzy brought about by Collins' law harkens back to four years ago when another Arkansas school authorized select faculty and staff to carry firearms on campus. 

In 2013, the Clarksville School District trained and armed a number of teachers and staff to become commissioned school security officers. The district said it couldn't afford to hire additional full-time security. 

Superintendent David Hopkins said those staff members are dressed in normal clothes and carry concealed firearms (or their firearms remain locked in a gun safe on campus). He said every school K-12 has armed staff members. And it's not just teachers, Hopkins said he has janitors and computer techs that are also armed. 

All of those armed undergo extensive training, 40+ hours on a semi-annual basis, Hopkins said. Arkansas State Police oversees the program, and the commission for school security officers has to be renewed every two years. 

When word first got out that Clarksville would have armed staff in a K-12 environment, Hopkins said he received hateful mail from around the world. Local feedback was positive, according to the superintendent. Then, after a year, nobody was talking about it anymore. 

Hopkins said there hasn't been a single negative incident since the program started. 

"It has worked well," the superintendent said. 

He stressed that his armed staff are not officers of the law. They are trained only to act if a person enters the campus with the explicit purpose of harming students.

As for what universities can learn from Clarksville? Hopkins said they don't need to be overly concerned with those that seek an enhanced concealed carry license and have gone through the proper paperwork and training.

"That's not who you have to be afraid of," the superintendent said. 

He said universities instead need to be worried about those that they don't know, criminals that have stolen a gun and are planning to harm students. 

Still, a number of students and faculty have spoken out against the law since its passage. 

Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, whose district includes the University of Arkansas, has been a vocal critic of the bill since it was filed. 

Hopkins agrees with Collins that the new law will deter potential threats to college campuses. 

He said college administrators worried about policy implementation relating to firearms should dig into the facts around it, and they'll see enhanced concealed carry permit holders aren't a threat. 

While he declined to provide specific institutions, Hopkins said other colleges (both in state and out) had reached out to the Clarksville School District for advice on handling new firearm policies in an educational setting. He said the district has tried to make their experience available to others that have reached out to Clarksville. 

Hopkins said he anticipates guns being allowed on college campuses will parallel the Clarksville School District's experience when arming faculty. He predicted there will be a commotion at first and then it'll die down after a year or two as it has for his school district.

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