By Suzi Parker
LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - Faculty and staff members in Arkansas would be allowed to carry concealed handguns on the state's college campuses under a measure approved on Friday by state representatives that also has the backing of Governor Mike Beebe.
The Arkansas state House voted 70 to 11 to allow colleges and universities to decide themselves whether to allow concealed weapons on their campuses, advancing the bill to the state Senate, which is expected to approve the bill.
Discussion of gun control and gun rights has dominated public debate in the United States since a gunman shot dead 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school in December, 20 of them first graders.
The advancement of the bill comes just days after Beebe signed into law a measure that allows concealed-carry permit holders to take weapons into houses of worship if the individual churches approve of the practice.
Beebe, a Democrat, was also expected to sign the bill that would leave it up to the schools to decide whether to allow concealed-carry on college campuses.
Arkansas would join 23 states that allow individual colleges or universities to decide whether to ban or allow concealed carry of weapons on campus, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some states also allow students to carry concealed weapons.
Many college professors testified in favor of the bill.
Joel Anderson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has said he will recommend that the school retain its ban on concealed weapons.
Steve D. Jones, chairman of the advocacy group Arkansas Carry, said police cannot always respond immediately to a crisis on a campus. Students would feel more secure knowing that there are "trained, vetted individuals that will provide immediate defense for them, if an incident occurs," Jones said.
(Editing by David Bailey, Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)