John Fulbright is manning a table at a gun show on a Sunday afternoon at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds in Little Rock.
He’s selling firearms and holsters for people who want to hide the weapons they’re carrying. He hovers over dozens of guns laid out for sale on the counter, and pulls a hard, synthetic holster out of its box to hold it up for display.
“Some people like the appendix carry, which is carried in the front. Some people carry at the 3 o'clock positions, sometimes back to the five or 7 o'clock positions,” he says. “It’s just what’s comfortable for that person. They carry inside the waistband, outside the waistband...”
He teaches a five-hour mandatory course for a concealed carry license at Shooter’s University in Cabot.
He also plans to teach a course for Arkansas's new, advanced concealed carry permit for people who want to carry on college campuses, sports events, and private spaces like churches.
The law takes effect Friday, but the Arkansas State Police have 120 days to create the safety training for lay people packing for self-defense. So far they have not released any plans for the class.
Fulbright says he's waiting to see what it will involve, and meanwhile people are calling him for information about the new permit. He says overall, interest in concealed carry is up in Arkansas.
James Walter Jones, who goes by J.W., is thinking about getting the advanced permit even though he’s not a student any longer. He’s a 33-year-old car mechanic and says he might use it at work.
"I don't want to be in a situation where somebody's there shooting, and somebody I'm friends with or somebody I care about gets shot, and nobody is there willing to stop them."
State Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville), who sponsored the law, hopes it will deter potential mass shooters who will fear someone at school or church could be packing under their clothes.
“If these crazy killers, who are crazy like a fox when it comes to planning and plotting the murder of our loved ones, if they have to fear that somebody else might disrupt their plans at the beginning, then I believe some of them will say, 'This plan will not work.'”
Collins says state police are still developing the class, but he hopes that as part of the training, permit holders will learn how to let the police know that they are not the attacker.
“‘Set your weapon down. Announce that you have a weapon. Point out the wounded,’” he says. “Whereas, [with] the criminal shooter, the murderer is very likely to point his weapon at the police and start shooting at the police.”
According to Cassandra Crifasi, a faculty member at the Center for Gun and Policy Research at John Hopkins University, evidence shows that most mass shooters target people or places they know, and the presence of concealed carriers won’t discourage that.
“I think the best available research shows that guns on college campuses are not a good idea.”
In fact, she says, a concealed gun carrier may escalate violence by giving criminals more reason to pack a gun. And, she says, most people aren’t skilled enough to neutralize a moving shooter. They are more likely to hit another victim.
“Everything changes when you are in a crisis situation. Your heart rate is up. Your eyes dilate. You’ve got all these stressors and loud noises and often only a few seconds to decide shoot, don’t shoot,” says Crifasi.
She says data shows even police officers hit only about 30 percent of their targets.
But Collins hopes Arkansas’s training class will serve as a model of compromise for states that haven’t yet allowed guns on campus for safety reasons.
And Fulbright says, in the new eight-hour course, he’ll ask carriers to think about what might happen after they shoot.
“You’re going to have to call 9-1-1. What do you tell them? Who do you talk to? Making sure they get an attorney. It’s not something you want to try to do on your own. Be prepared to be put in the back of a police car for a while, be placed in handcuffs,” he says.
“That’s something a lot of people don’t really think about. Your body is going to go through a lot of different things emotionally, and you just need to be prepared for that.”
With school starting up this fall, and the training program still in the works, armed students aren’t likely to walk campus corridors until sometime next year.
This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org. Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.