Gov. Asa Hutchinson
GUN BACKER: Gov. Asa Hutchinson has spoken up for guns before, as when he took the lead on an NRA initiative to put more guns in schools.
has informed the Arkansas State Police
that he believes a 2013 law made open
carry of hand guns
the law of the land in Arkansas and they should act accordingly.
There is, as yet, no definitive court case that substantiates this view of the law. Ever since its passage, a debate has raged over the law's meaning. Some contended it was merely meant to be a technical correction to Arkansas law that long had allowed the carrying of weapons on a "journey," but not in all circumstances. Gun advocates argued that the wording validated open carry. Critics argue that such an expansive view might override some of the restrictions in law on where concealed weapons may be taken.
The governor's letter comes as he faces a challenge in the Republican primary from Jan Morgan,
a gun range owner who's depicted Hutchinson (a former spokesman for the NRA) as somehow soft on guns (she was critical of some limitations added to the campus carry legislation, among others). His opinion carries no force of law, but the directive to an executive agency will have the effect of guiding state troopers, as indicated by a notice sent yesterday to troopers by Col. Bill Bryant,
director of the State Police. I received both the governor's letter, dated Dec. 15,
and Bryant's memo through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Context: An off-duty trooper in 2014 arrested a man who was carrying a weapon in a Searcy Walmart. He was acquitted of an obstruction of governmental operations misdemeanor charge,
but lost a lawsuit at the circuit court level in which he sought to have his concealed carry permit restored. Judge Wendell Griffen
rejected James Tanner's argument that the 2013 law allowed open carry so long as no unlawful intent was present. The judge called that interpretation "senseless."
The judge ruled Tanner wasn't entitled to get his license back because he openly carried a concealed weapon as a permit holder and refused to provide identification to an officer who asked for it. That case has not been appealed, court records indicate.
The governor sees open carry differently His letter:
Yes, sir, said Col. Bryant. His memo:
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued an official opinion in 2015
that indicated open carry was legal in Arkansas, but she also commented that confusion about the 2013 law suggested clarification would be useful. The legislature's refusal to take that step has always been a silent affirmation to me that there's a division
on what the 2013 law meant and some resistance to an up-or-down vote on open carry. Her predecessor, Dustin McDaniel, had opined the law was only a technical correction, not legalization of unlimited open carry.
Rutledge also enumerated these caveats about open carry:
* Law officers can freely question anyone openly carrying a weapon about their purpose.
* Other statutes prohibit open carry in certain circumstances — in government buildings such as the Capitol, for example.
* Private property owners are entitled to keep firearms off their property, and armed people who refuse to leave can be prosecuted for trespass.
* The law doesn't affect concealed carry statutes. All carrying concealed weapons still must comply with permitting and other requirements.