New law could allow open gun carry in Arkansas

story by Ryan Saylor

Come July 1, remembering your debit card, a holster and a Glock 22 may be standard on a trip to the grocery store – or anywhere else, for that matter – so long as your are traveling to a county other than where you live.

According to a press release from Arkansas Carry, a piece of legislation passed by the Arkansas General Assembly this year and signed into law by Gov. Mike Beebe will allow anyone to openly carry a firearm in a county other than their own.

The group says Arkansas will become the fifth state to enact "Constitutional Carry" which it says "occurs in a state when no laws exist that generally restrict the carry of handguns (open or concealed) for self-defense purposes."

It goes on to say that Act 746, which updated weapons laws, does "not require a permit or training."

When contacted Wednesday (April 24), Beebe's spokesman Matt DeCample said the interpretation was just that of a single group and should not necessarily be taken as fact.

"You're not talking about a legal interpretation, you're talking about one interested party," he said.

DeCample emphasized that Beebe did not sign the law with the understanding that it could be interpreted as allowing people to openly carry firearms in public places.

"You don't know how anyone's going to interpret a law," he said.

Although expressing praise about Arkansas being an open carry state in July, the Arkansas Carry press release did encourage citizens to seek clarity on the law.

“Arkansas Carry suggests that citizens consult a lawyer before carrying a handgun in public after the act takes effect. Being a new law, Act 746 is untested by the courts, and law enforcement officials are not completely aware of the implications as it pertains to the carry of handguns. Arkansas Carry’s interpretation of this law cannot be held as legally binding, and prosecutors may construe the law differently.”

When contacted, a spokesman for the Arkansas Attorney General's office would not comment, explaining that the office was prohibited from engaging in any speculative interpretation of specific laws.

But a law professor contacted by The City Wire said Arkansas Carry may be right in its understanding of how the law was written.

The professor, who wished to remain anonymous "because the law is so uncertain," said the ambiguity of the law could allow a mother to openly pack heat as she strolls the produce aisle.

"The language … (has) been changed from the purpose to use it as a weapon against a person to use it unlawfully on its face does seem to give people the right to carry a weapon in public places that aren't schools or other exempted places," the professor said. "At least (it appears) carrying it openly (is legal) if the purpose is self defense against a lethal force."

The bill may also change laws regarding concealed carry, possibly eliminating a law that has been wildly popular in Arkansas for many years.

"It is very unclear to me whether or not this new provision allows open carry only or both or what the legislation is doing. That's a totally difficult question to answer."

Getting an answer on the intent of the law, which was sponsored by Rep. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, will be unlikely to happen unless or until someone is arrested for carrying a weapon openly, according to the professor. Altes did not return calls seeking comment.

"It depends, but I can imagine somebody bringing it as a test case. Of course they have to expose themselves to possible criminal violation. I know in other states, people have announced their intentions to openly carry in an open area. That is one possibility, if the police decide to arrest someone, that could end up in court."

But the question about the law has nothing to do with constitutionality, the professor said, but about intent.

"The question really is that what the legislature and the governor intended?"

According to the professor, "it's kind of ridiculous that it wouldn't be clear."

DeCample said regardless of what one groups says the law means, Beebe has never been in favor of open carry, in any form.

"No, and he said as much when that bill came up, primarily because of concerns raised by law enforcement officials."

An open carry law in Oklahoma went into effect Nov. 1, 2012. The Oklahoma law requires a concealed handgun weapons permit and a “valid government ID” must be on the person openly carrying a weapon.

“It’s also important to remember that any privately owned business may prohibit open carry or concealed carry on their property. These prohibitions must be respected, in addition to the prohibitions on open carry at schools, universities and career technology centers, prisons, in bars, at sporting events, or on government property,” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) noted in a statement.