Effort continues to change Fort Smith gun laws

Steve Jones is not letting up on his effort to convince Fort Smith officials to change the rules on firearms in city parks.

On Monday (Feb. 4), Jones e-mailed Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders and Fort Smith City Director Philip Merry Jr. to explain that the Fort Smith National Historic Site and the National Cemetery in Fort Smith allow concealed-carry permit holders to have a firearm on their property.

Firearm possession in Fort Smith parks is not allowed by existing city regulations. Jones, chairman of Arkansas Carry, a gun rights group, alleges that Fort Smith is in violation of portions of Arkansas law (A.C.A. Sections 14-16-504 and 14-54-1411) with its prohibition on the carry of firearms at public parks.

Arkansas Carry bases its argument on A.C.A. Section 14-54-1411, which states “A local unit of government shall not enact any ordinance or regulation pertaining to, or regulate in any other manner, the ownership, transfer, transportation, carrying, or possession of firearms, ammunition for firearms, or components of firearms, except as otherwise provided in state or federal law.”

In 2009, Arkansas Carry convinced Sebastian County to remove their firearms law from the county code. In 2012, the cities of Russellville and Conway considered passing firearms ordinances, but these plans were dropped after receiving pressure from Arkansas Carry.

In his Monday e-mail, Jones said federal rules have allowed concealed carry at the Fort Smith National Historic Site and the National Cemetery for several years “all without incident.”

“Combine this fact with equal results in another Fort Smith based park (Ben Geren, which is one of the state's biggest), and it becomes obvious that Fort Smith should repeal its gun ordinances and reform the city government's stance on gun control,” Jones said.

National Park Service rules do follow state law on firearm rules.

“If you can possess firearms legally according to the laws of the state in which a park is located, you can generally carry them in that park,” according to a National Park Service page explaining the rules. “A permit is required to carry concealed weapons. Some concealed-weapons permits are recognized in multiple states, but many are not. It is the gun owner’s responsibility to know and understand what laws apply.”

Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack said it may be prudent to see if the Arkansas Legislature changes municipal rules related to firearms. He said one overall amendment may be better than making a string of minor amendments to the ordinance.

“I think what we’re going to do is wait and see what the state Legislature does this year. … We’re just going to deal with this one time,” Gosack said, adding that it’s important to not no “confuse the public by playing ping pong with our local laws.”

Fort Smith City Director George Catsavis said during a Jan. 22 study session that the city should amend its rules to allow concealed carry in city parks. Fort Smith City Director Keith Lau has said the Board should wait for the Arkansas Legislature or other authorities should determine how state law should be prescribed.

Coincidentally, the Arkansas House on Monday approved Senate Bill 71, which allows churches to decide on allowing guns. The bill, which has been approved in the Senate, passed the House with an 85 to 8 margin. Seven House members did not vote. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Mike Beebe.

Rep. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, has filed a bill (HB 1035) that would allow “trained and licensed staff” to carry a concealed handgun on a university or community college campus.