Friday, June 12, 2015

TOP STORY >> Open-carry gun law prevailing

Leader staff writer

Several area legislators support open carry, and local law-enforcement agencies will not arrest individuals just for displaying firearms in plain view on their persons.

The issue came up in the media recently when Attorney General Leslie Rutledge was quoted as saying state law allows open carry. The governor agreed in a statement following that news.

State Rep. Tim Lemons (R-Cabot), state Rep. Nate Bell (I-Mena) and state Sen. Jon Woods (R-Springdale) this week requested that Rutledge issue a formal opinion concerning the law some say is clear and others argue needs clarification.

The Attorney General’s communications director, Judd Deere, told The Leader Rutledge had been saying open carry is the law of the land for years, but she couldn’t comment now because a formal opinion is pending.

There is no deadline for her opinion to be issued, but 30 days is typically the office’s goal, he noted.

Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley, Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay, Sherwood Police Chief Jim Bedwell, Jacksonville Police Chief Kenny Boyd, Lt. Randy Mauk of the Lonoke Police Department and Ward Police Chief Steve Benton say they their agencies are not arresting people for carrying weapons openly if there is no indication the weapon’s owner is committing or planning to commit a crime.

The state law — Act 746 of 2013 — reads, “A person commits the offense of carrying a weapon if he or she possesses a handgun, knife, or club on or about his or her person, in a vehicle occupied by him or her, or otherwise readily available for use with a purpose to attempt to unlawfully employ the handgun, knife, or club as a weapon against a person.”

The Cabot Police Department, although no one returned a call from The Leader by press time, posted on its Facebook page Monday afternoon that the department would stand by former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s 2013 opinion that open carry was not legal.

The department issued a new statement Friday after Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham met with police chiefs that day to let them know that “you need more to be arrested for having a gun than just having a gun.”

The Cabot Police Department posted on Facebook on Friday that officers would “follow the law as written.”

Graham added that police still have the right to approach people who open carry and ask for identification to confirm they are not convicted felons or of another group not allowed by law to possess weapons. “Everybody’s trying to do the right thing,” the prosecutor said.


Graham also said a concealed carry permit holder might be violating the conditions of their permits if they choose to open carry. But, he noted, the State Police could best answer that question.

He would like Arkansas to have an open-carry bill, like other states, that would permit or prohibit it and list regulations if allowing open carry.

His personal feelings are, Graham said, “There’s no tactical reason to do that and I understand the constitutional arguments about it. But your rights and my rights have to be balanced. This causes alarm, and I don’t think this helps.

“My real concern is (police) have a tough enough job to do before this, and this makes their job even tougher.”

Sheriff Staley said, although people will not be arrested solely for openly carrying a firearm, his deputies will respond to calls from residents concerned about seeing others with weapons.


“We ask for cooperation (from those who open carry) and understand it may cause alarm…I think carrying openly is tactically unsound,” he continued. “The law is very clear about the carrying of a weapon being allowed…Personally, the Second Amendment gives them that right. I have no problem with people carrying a weapon as long as they do it responsibly.”

The sheriff said that means people who carry a firearm should have training in how to handle it and be educated on gun safety. “Taking somebody’s life is a very powerful thing, and it can happen in a split second with an accidental discharge.”

Staley added, “We have to differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys.”

He does not believe the legislature intended to allow open carry and clarified that a person could still be arrested if there is evidence they committed, intended to commit a crime or are not allowed to carry a weapon. For example, felons are not allowed by law to own or carry a firearm.

Pulaski County’s Sheriff Holladay wrote in an email to The Leader, “Upon the opinion of our prosecuting attorney and the released statement from Attorney General Rutledge, we are not making arrests solely for open carry.

“There must be criminal intent to use the firearm to have charges pressed. However, each response to an open carry situation will have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis depending on the totality of the circumstances.

“It is our hope that the legislature will clarify the law as soon as possible to avoid conflicting interpretations as to the legality of open carry of a firearm.”


Jacksonville Police Chief Boyd agreed. “Nobody’s on the same page. That’s a problem.”

He also said Jacksonville has responded to two or three complaints about people carrying a firearm and the issue with the law is that it doesn’t specifically address open carry. As the law is now, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor who wants to charge someone with carrying a weapon, Boyd explained. They would have to show the person intended to use the weapon in an “unlawful” way.

The chief continued, “My fear is that we’re going to have someone open carry in an establishment and not (be) cooperative.”

Sherwood’s Chief Bedwell said of lawmakers, “I wish they would make the law clear on this for everyone to understand.”

Mauk of the Lonoke Police Department said, “Obviously, it’s going to be on a case-by-case basis. I’m not a fan of it by any means. I think we’re asking for trouble.”

He guarantees the department will get complaints and answer them. Mauk called that “more of a headache to the one who is doing open carry.”

He agreed with Bedwell that clarification is needed.

State Rep. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville) said he’s against open carry, while State Rep. Karilyn Brown (R-Sherwood) says allowing it could lower crime rates.

Rep. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock) says he can’t argue with the interpretation that state law allows open carry, but did say that wasn’t the legislature’s intent.

He emphasized that people who carry firearms should have proper training and follow safe practices, such as holstering their guns.

Johnson told The Leader he is an NRA member and has a concealed carry permit, but “we’re not in the wild, wild West. We don’t need open carry.”

He continued, “Not everybody likes guns. Guns bother some people, and you need to respect their rights as well as yours.”

Johnson was also concerned about the potential hazards of people openly carrying firearms in public places. One example he used was a wife and husband arguing in Walmart and one of them grabbing a stranger’s gun to kill the other with.

The intent of the law was to let people transport weapons in their vehicles from one place to another, Johnson added.

Concealed carry, on the other hand, comes with regulations like background checks and places where the concealed gun can’t be carried — such as establishments that sell alcohol, governmental meetings, divorce court, etc.

But, even though he’s against open carry, Johnson doesn’t think the law needs to change.

Brown also has a concealed carry license because, she explained, her husband is disabled and she felt the two of them might appear “vulnerable” to criminals.

Brown said she believes statistics have shown lower crime rates in areas with fewer restrictions on gun ownership.

“I think people having weapons, honest people having weapons, curbs crime…I don’t have a problem with it, and I think we might be better off if we have open carry,” she said.


Joe Farrer (R-Austin) agreed. He said, “I think it’s a deterrent to crime.”

Brown added that the law is clear and there is no need to change it.

House said the law’s intent was to keep innocent people from having weapons carried in their vehicles confiscated by police for “less than good reasons,” such as them being “mouthy” to an officer.

About open carry, House continued, “No one in the legislature wants to tackle it. Right now, as time has gone by, I think it’s best to leave (the law) just the way it is.”

His son owns Arkansas Armory in Sherwood, and House said he liked his son’s advice that everyone wants to know three things about someone who chooses to open carry.

Those things that need to be known is whether that someone is a convicted felon or a mental patient; that they know how to handle a gun and won’t shoot someone unintentionally or intentionally without reason and whether they understand there are places where open carry is not appropriate.

Those places include in someone’s home without their permission, in a government building, businesses that do not allow them and more, House said.

Weapons should be holstered and, although the Second Amendment gives people the right to bear arms, it also says the militia should be “well regulated,” House pointed out.