By now, a lot of Arkansans have heard about the “open carry” controversy stirred up by a billboard outside of Conway advising citizens that state law allows them to openly carry pistols.
It’s also worth mentioning that our new attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, has gone on record saying she believes Arkansas law is pretty clear – an individual may carry a pistol so long as he or she does so without the intent to unlawfully employ it against another person.
I, for one, won’t strap my 9mm pistol on my hip and go swaggering down the street just yet. The open carry issue is far from resolved.
The debate over whether Arkansas allows open carry has been out there since June 2013 when Gov. Mike Beebe signed Act 746 into law. That law was meant to clarify some things about existing gun laws in Arkansas but wound up muddying the waters on the issue of whether people could openly carry pistols.
Around that time, former state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued an opinion stating that Act 746 did not allow people to openly tote pistols around in spite of some fairly plain language suggesting that is exactly what the law allows.
The language at issue is codified at Arkansas Code Annotated (A.C.A.) §5-73-120(a), which states that “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.”
Currently, it is a safe bet that people who have concealed carry permits do not commit the offense of carrying a weapon so long as they don’t take them to schools or other prohibited places. We can also see that the law seems to suggest that Rutledge’s interpretation of it is right – that someone carrying a pistol (openly or not) can’t be found guilty of that offense unless they specifically intent to unlawfully use it against someone.
And, self-defense is generally considered a lawful use of a firearm.
Still, that interpretation of Act 746 has not been given the stamp of approval by the Arkansas Supreme Court and I don’t know many people who will volunteer to get arrested and challenge the law to see if that interpretation is correct or not.
In other words, the only sure way to carry a pistol in Arkansas and not run afoul of the authorities is to get a concealed carry permit and comply with the requirements of it. Anyone carrying a handgun openly might run into trouble.
This column was authored by Ethan C. Nobles and originally appeared in the Feb. 24, 2015, edition of the Daily Record in Little Rock.
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