The number of Arkansans with a concealed-carry weapon permit rose more than 85% between 2007 and 2012, adding more than 60,000 citizens to the list of those who could potentially carry firearms in churches or on a college campus.
According to figures from the Arkansas State Police, there were 70,727 concealed-carry permit holders as of Dec. 31, 2008, with 12,315 new applicants in 2008. In 2009, the year President Barack Obama took office, the number rose to 92,451 as of Dec. 31, with almost 25,000 Arkansans applying in 2009 for a permit.
By Dec. 31, 2012, the number of permit holders totaled 131,417, with 21,412 applications filed in the year.
Legislation filed in the ongoing Arkansas legislative session seeks to expand the areas in which a concealed-carry permit holder may enter. Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, filed SB 71 to give churches a decision on if they will allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring a firearm into their facilities.
Rep. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, has filed a bill (HB 1035) that would allow “trained and licensed staff” to carry a concealed handgun on a university or community college campus.
Arkansas Carry, a group formed to push for legislation to expand gun-carry laws, said the cost to obtain a permit has prevented the number of permit holders from rising higher.
“While the number of citizens who possess a handgun permit in Arkansas is growing quickly, this is not an accurate indicator of the amount of law-abiding and safe persons in the state that desire self-defense. Many Arkansans want their Second Amendment right to protect themselves and their families, but can’t afford it, since the total cost of training and permit fees may approach $250,” noted a statement from Steve Jones, chairman of Little Rock-based Arkansas Carry.
He also said fees in other states are much less or free. The cost in Alabama is $50, and Arizona, Alaska and Vermont “charge nothing to exercise their Second Amendment right to self-defense,” Jones explained.
Jones outlined several reasons why he believes the Arkansas permit numbers are increasing. Those include:
• More Arkansans are being exposed to an armed public, and they are seeing this carrying of handguns as a positive;
• Many parents (and many single mothers) saw the awful tragedy unfold in Connecticut and vowed it would never happen to their children; and,
• The fear of government gun bans causes some to feel helpless in the face of forced defenselessness, so they obtain a permit to help allay those fears.
Not everyone is convinced that an armed public is the answer.
Aaron Gibson, co-founder of Razorbacks Against Concealed Carry, disputes that more guns result in a safer environment on a college campus. The group specifically formed to oppose a “University of Arkansas Self Defense Bill" that is now before the Residents' Interhall Congress and the Associated Student's Government.
“We are expressing opposition to this bill because we reject the idea that guns will make our campus safer and we believe that the presence of firearms will actually create a more dangerous and hostile environment,” Gibson noted in a statement. “The dangers of having guns on a college campus include the risk of gun theft, the possibility of accidental shootings, the prevalence of mental health issues among college students, and the use of alcohol and drugs on college campuses.”