Rep. Chris Richey (D-West Helena)
A bill filed Tuesday by Helena Democratic Rep. Chris Richey
would expand the current rules and licensing requirements covering concealed handgun carry
to include "open carry" of handguns carried in plain sight.
House Bill 1265,
if passed, would require those wishing to "open carry" a handgun to obtain the same permit currently required for concealed carry.
Under present law, concealed carry applicants must take a firearms safety and "live fire" training class from a State Police-approved firearms instructor, submit their fingerprints and copies of identification to the ASP, and pay a new license fee
of $142.11 if under 65 years old, or $90.61 if older than 65. The fee pays for processing the online application and a background check.
If Richey's bill is approved and signed into law by the Governor, Arkansas would join 15 other states with handgun licenses that allow for both open or concealed carry, though many of those states rarely issue handgun permits to private citizens. Twenty-three other states in the U.S. allow so-called "permissive" open carry, with no training, permit or license required to carry a handgun openly.
Arkansas law on open carry is currently somewhat cloudy, following an August 2015 opinion by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge,
in which Rutledge — while saying that the matter would best be settled by legislation — said it was the opinion of her office that if a lawful handgun owner doesn't have the intent to unlawfully employ their firearm as a weapon against another person, he or she may openly carry a handgun on their person or in their vehicle. Rutledge issued several caveats to her opinion, including that law enforcement still had the right to stop and question anyone openly carrying a firearm; that laws prohibiting firearms from certain public places like schools and the State Capitol are still in effect; that private property owners had the right to ban firearms from their premises, and that "the laws requiring a license to carry a concealed handgun still have full force and effect," adding that nothing in the opinion or current law "is intended to suggest that a person may carry a concealed handgun in public without a properly issued concealed-carry license."
Reached by phone, Richey said that HB1265 is an attempt to get a "clear stance" on the laws concerning open carry. He said requiring licensing and training for open carry will improve public safety.
"I'm especially trying to clarify the situation for our law enforcement officers, who are, right now, very unsure on how they're supposed to handle [open carry]," Richey said. "I think this would give them a lot more clarity on how to approach open carry. They would know that the people who are open carrying have received training just like those who are concealed carrying."
HB1265 has been referred to the Judiciary Committee.