There was no shortage of firearms and holsters Saturday morning in Conway as dozens openly-carried handguns on their hips as part of a constitutional carry demonstration walk.
The “celebratory walk,” as described by Arkansas Carry chairman Nicholas Stehle, was scheduled after 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland said his office, whose jurisdiction includes Faulkner County, would not prosecute people for openly carrying a weapon in public. Hiland’s decision came in the aftermath of an amendment, now Act 746, that passed the Arkansas House and Senate in 2013, which has left several prosecutors with a different interpretation of the legality of open, or constitutional, carry.
Demonstrators gathered around 11 a.m. in the Colton’s parking lot where they were instructed to keep their weapons in holsters at all times. Without incident, the demonstrators walked the Oak Street sidewalk to its intersection with Ingram Street and returned to Colton’s for lunch.
Stehle said the support from public figures was appreciated by the group.
“They constantly put themselves out there on the issues, and let their constituents and possible constituents know where they stand on these things,” he said. “We appreciate that a lot.”
While speaking with reporters, Coleman voiced his support of Act 746, and said he believes the interpretation of prosecutors like Hiland is correct.
“I do defer to prosecutors in each county to the interpretation of the law, but it is my interpretation that this is what is called constitutional carry,” Coleman said. “I think open carry is what is accurately called constitutional carry, which is an acronym for the fact that the rights of the Second Amendment, for any American, should never be infringed.”
In hindsight, some legislators, including state Rep. Steve Magie, D-Conway, have said they didn’t believe the amendment would change the interpretation.
“It did not appear that it opened up the right for somebody to strap on their six-shooter and walk into a Walmart,” Magie told the Log Cabin Democrat in December.
Whether all lawmakers were aware or not, Coleman said the change in interpretation was intended, but clarification is still needed.
“As governor, I certainly will be advocating a clarification so that there is no equivocation and no doubt for any local prosecutor in this state that this does constitute an open carry legislation in Arkansas,” he said.
Honored to walk with 2nd Amendment supporters in the Open Carry walk in Conway this morning. #arpx
— Curtis Coleman (@curtiscoleman) January 4, 2014
Stehle said he did not see the need for any clarification, and placed blame on Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who “intentionally clouded” the amendment in order to “probably give some cover to some people.”
“The fact of the matter is, the law is pretty clear as it is written,” Stehle said. “We have one of the most solid and iron-clad constitutional carry laws in the country.”
McDaniel issued an opinion in July, which stated he did “not interpret (the amendment) as authorizing so-called ‘open carry.’”
Both Coleman and Stehle said allowing Arkansans to openly carry weapons does not create risk or danger to the public.
“I think the most dangerous places in the country are gun free zones,” Coleman said.
“Open carry is allowed in 44 other states, and there is just not a lot of evidence to suggest anything like that happens,” Stehle said. “In fact, there’s more evidence than anything else to suggest crimes are simply avoided. If a criminal sees someone carrying openly, they tend to avoid that person, because they don’t look like a very good victim.”
— Sen. Jason Rapert (@RapertSenate) January 4, 2014
(Staff writer Lee Hogan can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1246. Follow Lee Hogan on Twitter at twitter.com/LCD_LeeHogan. To comment on this and other stories, log on to thecabin.net.)