LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Governor Asa Hutchinson formed a commission Thursday to look at improving security at Arkansas schools in light of the recent school massacre in Florida, though he said he would oppose gun control measures such as raising the minimum age to buy firearms.
The Republican governor stopped short of endorsing any specific changes or legislation as he announced the 11-member Arkansas School Safety Commission. The panel faces a July 1 deadline to issue an initial report, with final recommendations due by the end of November.
Hutchinson said the panel will look at several issues, including school designs, safety policies, emergency plans and mental health. He also committed $300,000 for additional training for school resource officers and school security assessments.
“There is more that needs to be done, and that’s what I’m challenging this commission,” Hutchinson said at a news conference at the state Capitol.
Hutchinson spearheaded an effort by the National Rifle Association that called for trained, armed staff at schools after the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 26 people. He also signed legislation last year that expanded where concealed handguns are allowed in the state.
Hutchinson said he wants the commission to focus on school security, not the gun debate. He said he opposes gun control measures being proposed even by fellow Republicans, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has called for the minimum age to buy a gun to be raised from 18 to 21 years old.
“I don’t think further gun control is a solution to school safety,” Hutchinson said. “We want to focus on this. This is something we agree upon, that’s the exclusive mission of this commission.”
Democratic lawmakers said they were disappointed that Hutchinson was closing the door on any gun control discussion, despite Republicans elsewhere showing a willingness to look at some limits.
“We’re not trying to keep guns out of law abiding citizens’ hands,” Democratic state Rep. Greg Leding said. “We’re just trying to take common sense steps that a majority of Americans support to reduce gun violence. I think that should be a part of this conversation.”
Republican lawmakers have also said they plan to hold hearings in the coming months to come up with school security legislation for next year’s session.
The commission’s members include the superintendent of the Clarksville School District, which in 2013 began arming some of its teachers and staff as trained security guards. Several other school districts in the state also are licensed to use teachers and staff as armed guards.
“I think every school building in the state needs to have armed security,” Clarksville Superintendent David Hopkins said. “As far as how you provide that security, that’s the question. I think that’s a local control issue that needs to take place in our schools, and it’s also an economic issue.”
Other members of the commission include a public school teacher, county sheriff and school counselor, as well as representatives of the attorney general’s office and state Department of Education.