This article is the Conservative Arkansas debut of northwest Arkansas resident Patricia May, a skilled writer experienced in professional journalism. The picture of Asa Hutchinson was provided by professional photographer Bruce Burnett, another talented resident of the northwest corner of our state. You will be seeing more from Ms. May and Mr. Burnett in the future.
One thing Asa Hutchinson has learned from his work with the NRA’s school safety task force concerns CNN host Piers Morgan.a certain television commentator.
“Do not go” if asked to do an interview with Morgan on gun rights, Hutchinson said emphatically Saturday, drawing a round of applause from his audience, members and guests of Conservative Arkansas, a political PAC that supports conservative candidates.
“He [Morgan] just believes in gun control … [that we] ought to be like Britain [and ban guns], and we’re not going to,” Hutchinson said. Outspoken during the interview, which occurred in early January (and can be viewed on YouTube), Morgan left no doubt about his antigun views. (Story continues after photo.)
Hutchinson, who was tapped by the NRA to lead a school safety task force after the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, eventually told the commentator, “Everything that you said is absolutely wrong.”
While the U.S. is unique in ensuring citizens’ rights to arms, the right is subject to “reasonable” restrictions, Hutchinson said. Restricting ownership of machine guns, for instance, is reasonable, he said. Nor should everyone be permitted to own surface-to-air missiles.
But, he continued, “President Obama takes this way too far” and calls for measures that “are not reasonable restrictions on our Second Amendment rights.”
If calls for severe curtailing of gun ownership continue, Hutchinson said, he’s willing to deliver the same message he gave to Morgan to a higher authority. “I will tell the president, ‘Mr. President, you are absolutely wrong.’”
It was a crowd pleasing line for the former congressman and 2014 gubernatorial hopeful who was the keynote speaker for Conservative Arkansas’s regular monthly meeting.
No other country in the world ensures its citizens have the same right to bear arms, Hutchinson said. “The United States of America is unique” because the Founding Fathers guaranteed citizens that right in the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
Hutchinson said he believes schools should be better protected. But, he added, “I also believe in local control … It should be up to the local school districts” to decide how the schools will be protected.
The group he’s leading plans an April release that will include on-line security assessment tools, a model training program for schools that choose to have armed officers, and a pilot project for some schools without financial resources for security officers.
Task force members range from former CIA leaders to FBI agents, said Hutchinson, who himself was the first under-secretary of the nation’s Homeland Security department and who also led the federal Drug Enforcement Administration for two years in the Bush administration.
Hutchinson spoke about visiting the Philadelphia schools, where violent gang crime is so rampant every high school student passes through a metal detection device before entering school buildings. Yet the district decided its resource officers shouldn’t be armed, Hutchinson said.
Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest public school district, is policed by more than 300 armed officers who work in patrol, detective and walking divisions. Their weapons include shotguns, handguns and AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, Hutchinson said.
Arkansas law prohibits weapons on school grounds so changing the law would be necessary to allow armed officers, Hutchinson said. But at least one district has already found an alternative.
The superintendent of a rural Arkansas school told Hutchinson he’d long worried about protecting children in his district, so remote it takes law enforcement officers 20 minutes to arrive. Worried about being defenseless if students were threatened, the superintendent carries his own weapon.
He does that legally, Hutchinson said, because the sheriff designated the superintendent as a private security officer. The designation requires a license but just one day of training is necessary to obtain it, Hutchinson said.
The only other alternative under current state law is to become a sworn law enforcement officer by attending the state police academy, where training includes serving search warrants, writing tickets and other subjects not pertinent to protecting schools, he added.
“I think we need a more efficient training program … more tailor-made for schools,” Hutchinson said, “but a change is needed in Arkansas law do so.”
Hutchinson said he talked recently with a man whose son died in the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn. The man said the task force was on the right track, Hutchinson said.
Banning guns won’t wipe out violence, Hutchinson said. Proof can be found as close as Mexico, where citizens have no right to arms. “Is Mexico a less violent society” as a result, Hutchinson asked. “Have they been able to keep weapons out of the hands of the cartels and other violent groups?”
Hutchinson also spoke briefly about the 2014 gubernatorial race.
“Susan and I are very excited. I will be a candidate for governor in 2014.”
Noting his experience and his familiarity with the state (“from the Delta to the timberland to the hills of Arkansas”), Hutchinson said he was approached by Republicans who believe the party has a good up-and-coming farm team but needs a strong experienced leader for 2014.
“I’m going to be working hard,” for that race, Hutchinson said. “I wish the election was in May.”
Nine state legislators, all Republicans serving in the state assembly currently in session, also attended and each made brief comments about the session.
Sen. Jim Hendren of Gravette served in the House of Representatives in the 1990s and returned this year to Little Rock as state Senator representing District 2. The legislature is “a very different place” now than 12 years ago when Democrats dominated, Hendren said.
Rep. Randy Alexander agreed, saying “it’s clear some of these committee chairmen are not used to pushback. … They need to get used to it.”
Newly elected Rep. Sue Scott of Rogers complimented Northwest Arkansas constituents, saying “We are representing the best people in the state of Arkansas.”
Sen. Cecile Bledsoe of Rogers is the first female and Republican chairman of the health committee. “We’ve taken over,” she said, referring to Republicans. “We’re going to remember the people who sent us, and we’re going to make you proud.”
Rep. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville talked about making the state more attractive for employers. “We’re going to turn Arkansas into a good job magnet.”
In response to an audience member who said he recalled the days of “moderate Democrats,” Sen. Jon Woods of Springdale responded, “It’s kind of like Bigfoot. You always hear about them” but never see them.
Rep. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville promised there’s a bill coming that will ensure Arkansas citizens maintain the right to own firearms, even if the federal government bans them. He said 20 states have introduced similar legislation. “We want one that would hold up in court. … We hope to get it filed in the next week or so.”
Rep. Jim Dotson of Bentonville spoke about the pro-life measures that have passed in the House with some Democrat support. “When they’re put on the record, people vote for life. They’ve never been put on the record before.”
And Rep. Justin Harris of West Fork told the group his priorities: “I’m a conservative first and a Republican second.” He promised a change in the Freedom of Information Act that will shield conceal weapon permit information from the news media but still allow state police access.