Gov. Asa Hutchinson postured himself as a reliable supporter of gun rights with "appropriate limits" in a speech to the Arkansas Sheriffs' Association on Monday.
The Republican governor -- also a former federal prosecutor and head of the Drug Enforcement Administration -- appeared at ease speaking in front of the law enforcement group at its meeting in Little Rock. His 22-minute speech highlighted his successful efforts to create beds for treatment of the mentally ill and to reduce lockups of low-level parole and probation offenders, while interspersing his record with anecdotes about drug busts and visions of the "Old West."
"I believe in the rule of law," Hutchinson told the group. "You have the heart and soul of the rule of law."
In his bid for re-election to a second four-year term, Hutchinson faces a primary challenge from Hot Springs gun-range owner Jan Morgan. Morgan has derided the governor's record on guns.
Last month, Hutchinson told the Arkansas State Police in a memo that he believed Arkansans have a right to openly carry handguns, a decision he told the sheriff's group Monday was made to provide clarity. County sheriffs are not bound by the governor's memo.
Hutchinson also said it was "common sense" to require gun owners to train and get a permit before being allowed to carry a concealed weapon in public -- a stance that set him apart from Morgan.
"In my judgment, that [concealed carry license] is absolutely consistent with the Arkansas Constitution and our Second Amendment privileges," Hutchinson said.
Morgan's campaign spokesman, Tracy Horne, said Monday the Arkansas Constitution and laws passed by the Legislature allow anyone to carry a weapon in the open or concealed, regardless of whether they are licensed to do so.
Horne said Hutchinson has only caused confusion among gun owners for stating otherwise. Morgan plans to make an appearance today at the association's winter conference, Horne said, though she is not scheduled to speak.
The sole announced Democratic candidate for governor, Jared Henderson, said Monday he supports the concealed carry licensing process, but open carry "goes too far." He said he was aiming to attend the conference today.
Among the crowd of sheriffs and their deputies, Morgan's opposition to concealed carry licensing is unlikely to get a positive reception, said Perry County Sheriff Scott Montgomery, the head of the association.
The bigger concern, Montgomery said, was that the licensing process for a concealed carry permit is not extensive enough.
"It shouldn't be that you go out there and shoot at a target. There should be some extra training," Montgomery said.
State police require at least five hours of classroom instruction for a regular concealed carry license, according to the agency's online training manual. A 2017 law will allow some permit holders to take their weapons onto public college campuses and other public places if they receive eight additional hours of training, though those "enhanced" permits have yet to be issued.
Metro on 01/30/2018
Print Headline: Sheriffs hear call for care on guns; Permits needed, Hutchinson says