Thu, Jun 2, 2022 4:17 PM
By Merrilee Gasser, The Center Square
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday he recommends the state use part of its surplus to increase school safety.
The issue could be discussed in a special legislative session that could include tax relief, the governor said.
The surplus funds would assist local schools in implementing safety measures, including increased school counseling, armed presence in schools, physical safety, and prevention efforts. The Arkansas School Safety Commission recommended many of these measures, which worked for nine months in 2018, said Dr. Cheryl May. Some were adopted, specifically Act 190, which increased the time counselors spend with students, said May, who led the commission.
“We’ve never stopped working on these issues,” May said.
The funding could be in the form of a grant program. While any allocation of funds would have to be approved by the legislature, the governor said something around $50 million would be appropriate for such a grant program.
When asked if he would be open to lifting the age requirement for gun ownership, Hutchinson said there could be an honest conversation about whether the age limit should be raised from 18 to 21 but added it would be challenging and referenced a similar law passed by California that the courts struck down as unconstitutional.
“What we do, we have to do smartly, and we have to do working together and thinking it through as to whether it will make a difference and whether it’s consistent with our second amendment liberties,” the governor said. “That’s a conversation that we should have, but what we are together on is simply school safety and that’s our first responsibility.”
In terms of other measures like increased background checks or ammunition limits, Hutchinson deferred to a group of bipartisan U.S. senators set to discuss gun control measures.
“We need to have some patience here. I really think the effort that the bipartisan group of senators is doing is important and I’ve had a conversation with some of the leaders in that and I believe, one, their efforts are genuine. They’re going to be looking at background checks and the thoroughness of those because we don’t want to have those that are convicted felons getting the firearms, we want good prosecution of those that try to get them unlawfully and we certainly don’t want those that have severe mental health issues acquiring them. The challenge is: how do we get there?” said Hutchinson.
When pressed on whether he would consider gun control legislation specific to Arkansas, Hutchinson said he was only focused on tax relief and school safety during the likely upcoming special session.
What the governor did make clear is his support for armed guards in schools.
“I have no doubt in my mind that an armed presence at schools is a deterrent factor and can save lives,” Hutchinson said.
The special session could happen as soon as July but the governor said the details have yet to be determined.