Arkansas gun bill sparks discussion

John Brown University officials are discussing whether or not to allow professors to carry guns on campus.

The topic is up for debate because the Arkansas House of Representatives passed a bill on Feb. 15, which would allow trained and licensed staff and faculty to carry a concealed handgun on a university, college, or community college campus under certain circumstances.

Other states such as Colorado currently do allow guns on campus and are considering legislation which would ban it, according to a Huffington Post article. The Associated Press reported that 28 states currently permit concealed weapons on campus, while 21 have laws forbidding it.

The Arkansas measure, Bill 1243, is backed by Governor Mike Beebe and is expected to pass the Senate, according to political news site Capitol Hill Blue. Legislators amended the bill to allow private colleges or university governing bodies to opt out.

The University has the chance to disallow this bill to affect its campus. In the aftermath of recent mass shootings, the University has seen the need for a response.

Scott Wanzer, director of campus safety, explained the current system.

“None of our security officers are armed,” he said. “If a shooter were on campus, our first reaction would be to call local law enforcement.”

Wanzer said the University plans to do what it takes to keep it safe and is not reluctant to make changes in the current security model.

“We feel that we have a safe town and campus, and we strive to be more aware and prepared in the case of an emergency,” Wanzer said.

Wanzer said the University feels that allowing staff members to carry concealed weapons would be counterproductive because of the lack of training experience. University officials are currently developing a spectrum to evaluate who they would feel comfortable with carrying concealed weapons.

The University has not addressed whether to encourage staff to acquire the necessary skills to carry a concealed weapon, Wanzer added.

Steve Beers, vice president of student development, said, “Our local police department is close enough and have been responsive. We have a lot of faith in their ability.”

Beers said with the amount of confusion involved in the case of a tragic event, it would be better to have trained officials. The University’s decision is more pragmatic, and the principle is to be prepared. Threats are taken more seriously and arise more than they did 20 years ago, he added.

If the bill becomes state law, the president’s cabinet will vote on the most prudent action.

Alyssa Funburg, freshman, said she trusted the professors.

“If it came down to it, I think our professors, who operate from a Christian perspective, would be able to react responsibly,” she said. “Jesus does say to arm and defend yourself.”

Funburg believes if a gun were needed to prevent a tragedy, using it would be okay. The point of an official having one is to diminish disadvantages.

Funburg also said campus safety officers should be armed, since anybody can dial 911. She believed that seeing some person carrying a gun is scary, but seeing a police officer or campus safety officer with a gun would make her feel safe.

Sophomore Serenity Domenico said just seeing a person with a handgun invokes fear.

“Who will be carrying guns next, daycare workers?” she asked.

Bill Stevenson, director of international admissions and student services, agreed to some degree with Funburg.

“I would be for Scott Wanzer to carry a weapon,” he said. “As the director of security who was a former police officer; I would support him to carry but that is where I draw the line.”

He personally experienced a potentially dangerous situation. After receiving his degree around 1989, Stevenson served as a University security officer.

One day, an armed man walked to the library and got in a fight with another man for sleeping with his wife.

“In a matter of minutes, a tragedy could occur,” Stevenson said. “We live in a fallen world. God expects us to govern responsibly.”

Stevenson convinced the man to hand over his hand gun, which he turned over to police.

“I was not prepared and felt vulnerable,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson thinks the University should hire more people with police force experience because many of our current officers would not know how to respond. He also supports the University’s decision to not allow faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns.

“A lot of deaths including handguns are accidental,” Stevenson said. “I don’t think a university setting, a place of learning, character building and faith development, needs faculty and staff to carry weapons.”

Stevenson recently went through the process to obtain his concealed carry license to receive additional training, and to become more familiar with weapons.

It has never crossed Stevenson’s mind to walk about with a weapon.

The president’s cabinet will make any final decision about potential changes in policy and procedures of the University.