The law pushed by Sen. Bill Walters of Greenwood and signed this year by Gov. Jim Guy Tucker had overwhelming support, passing the Senate 30-0 and the House 75-11. Even liberals like Sen. Vic Snyder of Little Rock approved.
"Its clear to me that we have far too many guns in our society," says Snyder, "but I don't harbor any illusions that because they are illegal that people aren't carrying them. These are good business people — restaurant owners who put a gun in their pocket. Attorneys that get warnings from police."
Snyder and Tucker say they were sold on the bill because of all the exclusions it carries for people who clearly have no business carrying a firearm — drug addicts, the mentally ill, anyone who has ever been incarcerated, for example.
One of the few legislators who voted against the measure was Rep. Jim Argue of Little Rock. "I think guns are part of the problem, not the solution," he said. "It promotes a vigilante mentality that will lead to innocent victims. The whole idea of concealed weapons has a scary quality to it."
Argue says the bill passed because legislators live in fear of the NRA For its part, the NRA says it is generally pleased with the Arkansas law, but says it has one of the most stringent list of exemptions of any of the state laws. You can expect the NRA to chip away at those exemptions during future legislative sessions. The organization calls this process "reform."
People who fear concealed weapons — many police, for example — boil it down to this: The more weapons there are out there, the more innocent people are going to be killed by them. That seems commonsensical, but it might not be that simple.
For one thing, only Florida has had a concealed handgun law for any length of time — eight years — and it's hard to tell what if any affect the measure had had on crime statewide. For another, it appears that the law really isn't having that much of an impact on gun sales in Arkansas, because most of the permit seekers already have weapons, and have been concealing them illegally for years.