Lawmakers Approve Enhanced Carry Rules with Promise of Future Changes

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Arkansas State Police can fire up the state's new enhanced carry program.

After motions, sub motions and a lot of confusion, the Arkansas Legislative Council, the governing body when lawmakers are not in session, ultimately approved the agency's rules Friday morning. 

However, lawmakers have started to see what began as the campus carry law is having some unintended consequences.

"It is in our hands now," Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, told his colleagues. "If we pass this today, the clock starts ticking."

But time stood still as lawmakers debated one regulation in particular. 

"We do not believe the law allows the instructor to choose," Mary Claire McLaurin, a staff attorney for state police, told lawmakers. 

The new law mandates all 1,100 certified concealed carry instructors in Arkansas must offer the enhanced class. If they don't, they lose their certification.

It's causing many instructors to drop out.

Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, said Cleburne County may not have any instructors left to teach it. 

"One of the comments made by one of the instructors was that they liked the bill because potentially this could weed out some of the 1,100 that are out there handing out licenses like candy," said Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton.

"If a doctor does not want to carry out an abortion, for example, I don't think we force them to do that," said Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock. 

Sen. Elliott and Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, filed motions to disapprove the rule, the former claiming it's inconsistent with legislative intent and the latter inconsistent with law.

"If we continue down this road, there's going to be a perpetual infringement upon our God-given rights," Stubblefield said. "Now is the time to stop it."  

But both motions failed and the rules passed.

A mother of two from Fayetteville drove the three hours to the state capitol to watch the debate.

"From the beginning of the process, this bill has been just conflict after conflict waiting to happen, and we're starting to see that now," said Nicole Clowney. "I wouldn't say I'm surprised. Anybody who's been following this process from the beginning knows it's moved more quickly than anybody would be able to keep up with."

This wasn't the lawyer's first trip to the capital city. Clowney sat in committee rooms and chambers from the time of the campus carry legislation's birth during the last legislative session. 

Clowney is currently eyeing the rule over guns in dorm rooms. It reads enhanced carry holders cannot store the gun there but can keep it within arms reach. 

Another attorney, Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock, introduced the issue to his colleagues. He asked McLaurin if state police could change the definition of storage to prohibit guns in dorm rooms. She said yes but didn't seem too keen on the idea. 

Several other lawmakers offered their support of the change, but the clock ran out. 

"It frightens me that guns, according to the Arkansas State Police, can be within arms reach of a sleeping student," Clowney said. "That student could have a roommate and that doesn't appear to be a violation of a law. That's concerning to me as a parent."

Lawmakers pledged to introduce legislation during the fiscal session in February to give concealed carry instructors the option to offer the enhanced class. They were confident it could get the two thirds needed.

Some also hope to clean up the dorm room storage rule to prohibit guns there but admit it's less likely to get the needed votes. 

Under the current rules, instructors will have six months to pass an exam in order to offer the enhanced training. 

According to state police, Arkansas is home to nearly 225,000 concealed handgun license holders. 

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