LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- A state law allowing concealed guns on college campuses goes into effect in just a few weeks.
Arkansas State Police have several months to develop rules and training, but with the fall semester starting colleges are trying to prepare for potential problems.
"This was their first chance to get into these classrooms," said John Bacon, CEO of eStem schools, as he walked KARK through the halls of the new eStem high school.
Two years ago, eStem's high school on the UA Little Rock campus was just an idea; however, now it's a reality
School officials tried to think of everything when planning the addition.
"When we started planning this several years ago - obviously [guns on campus] wasn't on our radar," Bacon said. "We knew that schools were gun free zones. We knew there was the 1,000 foot buffer under federal law."
This past spring, Arkansas lawmakers voted to allow concealed carry of firearms on public college campuses, in bars and other government buildings.
Despite the new law, state law still bans guns in K-12 schools, while federal law creates a 1,000 foot buffer in school zones.
Initially, eStem administrators thought that the federal law would enforce that 1,000-foot buffer out from their building. Fast forward to the first week of school starting back, and the debate is underway of where the gun free zone ends and campus carry begins .
"Now, we're being told that there's no 1,000 foot barrier," Bacon said. "Based on some legal interpretations, it's only the school building. We're still working through that; it definitely came out of left field. "
JoAnn Maxey is General Counsel for the UA system, she says with enhanced carry permits the state licensed individuals who can carry in a school zone's 1,000-foot buffer as it's allowed under federal law.
"I don't know when they [legislators] were looking at the particular bills that passed if they were looking at federal legislation," Maxey said. "I'm not sure what they considered. But that's one issue that we've had to look at for the UA Little Rock campus. We also have a high school in Hot Springs that we have had to consider."
So, according to Maxey, guns would be banned inside the main eStem buildings because eStem is a K-12 school, but allowed elsewhere on campus.
eStem's not the only place where administrators are having to draw lines. According to the law, individuals with guns can carry them into college dorms and residence halls, but storage of the gun itself in those areas isn't allowed.
"They [enhanced license holders] would have to store their handgun in a unattended, locked vehicle somewhere in the parking lot of the university, " said Maxey.
UA Little Rock is not the only school sorting it all out. UCA has issued this Q&A document to its staff, faculty and students. The University of Arkansas system has developed a concealed carry FAQ for the public. And other universities say they're developing policies and protocols as they await rulemaking guidance from the Arkansas State Police.
The law goes into effect on September 1, but State Police have until the end of the year (120 days specifically) to develop rules and plans for the additional 8 hours of training required.
That gap gives colleges time before any guns are on college grounds, but also makes it difficult to flesh out all the particulars so that they may answer parents, staff and students questions.
"We don't have a ready answer to everything, but we have to sit and give it some thought and look at the potential implications are going to be, " Maxey said. "The potential issues for one campus and one community may be different than another campus and another community."
eStem's admin says the changes to the carry law don't change the school's focus on student security. When enhanced carry eventually comes to campus, there will be a plan in place to keep the focus in the classroom.
"We want our families to know that we're going to do everything possible, working with UALR and its public safety team," Bacon said. "We're working closely with them just to make sure that we do everything possible to keep our kids safe and our families informed while the college complies with the law."
Arkansas State Police declined an on-camera interview, saying it is too early to discuss what might be developed to implement the enhanced carry program.We've requested internal documents from the agency to see if discussions are even underway. At this point, State Police have not provided those documents as required by law.
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