Supporters of “constitutional” or “open carry” are finalizing plans for a demonstration in Conway on Dec. 21.
The “constitutional carry walk” is set for 11 a.m., with demonstrators walking from downtown to the Colton’s restaurant on Oak Street while openly carrying handguns. The walk had originally been planned to begin in Simon Park, but this was changed after organizers realized that a state law prohibits carrying weapons in municipal parks.
The demonstration, which has been planned largely on Facebook, comes in light of 20th Judicial District prosecutor Cody Hiland’s decision last month that openly carrying a handgun will not be prosecuted in his jurisdiction absent a reasonable suspicion that a person actually attempted to use the weapon unlawfully.
In April a piece of legislation introduced by state Rep. Denny Altes (R-Fort Smith) purporting to make “technical corrections” to Arkansas statutes relating to carrying a weapon was signed into law. To many, these “technical corrections” make Arkansas one of a handful of states that allow all legal handgun owners to “open carry” in most public places without any special permit or license.
Previously the statute, A.C.A. § 5-73-120, defined the offense of carrying a weapon illegally as having a handgun on their person or in their vehicle “readily available for use with a purpose to employ” the weapon against a person. Altes’ amendment changed this to “readily available for use with a purpose to attempt to unlawfully employ” the weapon against a person.
According to Hiland, the addition of the words “to attempt to unlawfully employ” “fundamentally alters the character and nature of the statute.”
The amendment also redefines the word “journey” in the statute. A person on a “journey” may legally carry a weapon, and prior to the amendment “journey” was interpreted by courts, generally, as being on an extended trip outside of a person’s normal routine and whether a particular trip was a “journey” was a fact-intensive inquiry to determine by courts. The amendment now defines “journey” as travel outside one’s home county.
State Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) said on Wednesday that while the proposed amendment was moving through the House at the end of the previous Legislative Session discussion mostly concerned the amendment’s treatment of “journey.”
“However, as far as the impact [of the amendment], upon further consideration and how it apparently is being judged to basically open it up for anyone to openly carry, there was no intent that there was going to be completely open carry when that was passing through the Legislature,” Rapert said.
“If it’s an unintended consequence, then it is what it is,” Rapert said.
Rapert also said that, in his opinion, “at the end of the day there’s not one gun law that’s ever prevented someone that’s intending to do harm with a firearm from doing so . . . and all [certain laws restricting gun ownership] do is impede the individual law-abiding citizen from having a weapon with the same capabilities as the criminal’s to protect themselves.”
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued an opinion in July stating that he does “not interpret [the amendment] as authorizing so-called ‘open carry,’” Governor Mike Beebe has said that he didn’t think it legalized open carry when he signed it into law, and prosecutors and law enforcement officials differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiciton on whether “open carry” is legal.
Those who interpret the amended statute as allowing “open carry” or “constitutional carry” argue that the amendment does away with the court-created presumption that a person carrying a weapon has the intent to use it unlawfully against a person, and now only creates criminal liability for people who actually try to use the weapon they’re carrying unlawfully against a person.
Generally, those who interpret open or constitutional carry as still illegal believe that the presumptions of intent survive the amendment.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)