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Benton County panel supports allowing guns in offices

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BENTONVILLE -- Benton County's justices of the peace on Tuesday backed a proposal allowing elected officials and employees have concealed handguns in some county buildings.

The Legislative Committee endorsed the ordinance May 31 and sent it on to Tuesday night's Committee of the Whole meeting for more discussion. The Committee of the Whole approval sends the ordinance on to the full Quorum Court.

Pat Adams, justice of the peace for District 4, and Brent Meyers, justice of the peace for District 14, co-sponsored the ordinance.

Arkansas law on concealed handguns prohibits concealed carry permit holders from carrying weapons in a number of places. The list begins with "any police station, sheriff's station, or Department of Arkansas State Police station" and includes highway police and Department of Transportation facilities and adjacent ground.

The list of prohibited places also includes "any courthouse, courthouse annex, or other building owned, leased or regularly used by a county for conducting court proceedings or housing a county office." The law provides exceptions for county employees, elected officials and justices of the peace if the Quorum Court approves allowing concealed carrying of handguns that is incorporated into the local security and emergency preparedness plan.

The law doesn't allow members of the public to have concealed handguns. County employees would be required to have the enhanced concealed carry permit to have handguns in those areas allowed by the ordinance.

What’s next

Benton County’s Quorum Court will consider allowing employees and elected officials to carry concealed handguns in some buildings. The Quorum Court will meet at 6 p.m. June 28 in the Quorum Courtroom of the County Administration Building at 215 E. Central Ave. in Bentonville.

Source: Staff report

The proposal still lists as prohibited places "any place otherwise prohibited by federal or Arkansas law" along with a courtroom; a facility housing any operation of the Benton County Sheriff, including the jail; the Benton County Juvenile Detention Facility; any building owned or leased by Benton County in which circuit or district court proceedings are held; any state office on property owned or leased by Benton County; a school, college, community college or university event.

County Judge Barry Moehring had an email survey of employees regarding security concerns and concealed carrying of handguns in county building. Email messages were sent to 682 employees and responses received from 253 employees.

More than 72 percent of those who responded said they feel safe in their county building. About 45 percent said they would feel safer if their building had a metal detector and screening station and about 25 percent said they wouldn't feel safer in a building with metal detectors. Nearly 30 percent said they now work in a building with metal detectors. When asked about their preference for guns in the workplace, more than 36 percent said it should be limited to police officers/ sheriff 's deputies. Just under 40 percent said all employees should be allowed to have concealed weapons, and about 11 percent said everyone entering a county building should be allowed to carry a concealed handgun.

Moehring said the discussion of the concealed carry issue revived consideration of improving security for the County Administration Building, including installing a metal detector. He said the elected officials were unanimous in supporting that plan. He said the initial cost estimate is about $60,000 to do the work on the building. Another $4,000 is needed to cover personnel costs through the end of the year. The ordinance was forwarded to the Quorum Court. The committee asked that a more detailed breakdown of the work to be done and an itemized cost list be prepared for the Quorum Court meeting.

Josh Bryant, Justice of the Peace for District 2, said the additional security measures might not be needed.

"I almost think you could save $64,000 by putting up a sign saying 'County employees are authorized to carry weapons,'" Bryant said.

Betsy Harrell, chief deputy county clerk who will take office as the County Clerk in January, supported the security additions, regardless of the Quorum Court's decision on the concealed carry ordinance.

"Putting this in place would greatly reduce the likelihood of any employee ever having to defend themselves," Harrell said. "That goes way down."

NW News on 06/13/2018

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