by David Ramsey
Rep. Sue Scott's measure to allow the open carry of handguns in the state failed in the House Judiciary Committee this morning, despite an amendment from Rep. Nate Bell and Rep. Jeremy Gillam to limit the provision to unincorporated areas.
Arkansas State Police Director Stan Witt as well as a police officer from northwest Arkansas spoke against the bill, expressing concerns about police having to make a split-second decision when they saw an armed citizen, as well as fears about the risks of openly carrying citizens with insufficient training if a crime occurred in a public place. Witt said that he had been authorized by the Fraternal Order of Police and the Arkansas Association of Police Chiefs to speak against the legislation.
On a roll-call vote, the bill received nine votes.
I caught up with Bell afterwards, who said that he thought there was misunderstanding among the committee members about the amendment limiting open carry to rural, unincorporated areas. Bell said the amendment had been put together at the last minute, and he plans to speak with committee members and is hopeful that the provision still has a chance this session.
"I'm a farmer, and being able to walk a fence road, check cattle — those kinds of things — and being able to carry while I do that was important to me," he said. "Frankly, many farmers around the state are already doing that. We need to make sure they're not in a situation where they're legally vulnerable to do what they're already doing."
Saying that he believes "we're a safer society when people are armed," Bell said that he would be generally supportive of open carry laws even without his amendment, but said that "it eases a lot of the concerns that people have...most people understand someone out hiking in the mountains is probably not a threat to anyone. If we pass something that addresses the situations that people aren't afraid of, it makes them understand better."
Bell mentioned concerns about his wife trail-running, but no mention of his cutoff jeans...