Arkansas' attorney general said Friday that legal gun owners are free to openly carry or ride with their weapons but should be ready to field inquiries from law enforcement personnel wondering why they're carrying.
Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released an opinion Friday stating that law-abiding Arkansans are free to carry or possess their weapons on themselves or in their vehicles without fear of prosecution so long as they are not in a place where it is prohibited by law and they do not have an intent to "unlawfully" use the weapon.
Rutledge's opinion has been expected by many, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson. It was requested in early June by three legislators who wanted to settle whether modifications to the state's weapon-carry statute in 2013 made Arkansas an "open-carry" state -- one that allows citizens to openly carry firearms without a license.
Because Rutledge's opinion is nonbinding, it does not bar police from arresting citizens who open-carry, which has happened sporadically across the state over the past two years.
"While I do not encourage 'open carry,' it is my opinion that if a person does not have the intent to 'attempt to unlawfully employ a handgun ... as a weapons against another,' he or she may possess a handgun ... readily available for use ... without violating [state law]," Rutledge wrote. "That means in general merely possessing a handgun on your person or in your vehicle does not violate [state law] and may be done if it does not violate other laws or regulations."
Rutledge's opinion comes with some caveats, however, including a warning that any gun owner who chooses to openly carry can expect encounters with police.
Unlawfully carrying a weapon-- whether a gun, knife or club-- is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.
Since it is against the law to carry the weapon with the intent to "attempt to unlawfully" use the weapon, law enforcement officers have a duty to investigate potential misdemeanors, including whether someone with a weapon intends on illegally using that weapon, Rutledge said.
Officers can stop and detain citizens if they have "reasonable suspicion" that can be based on a suspect's demeanor, his "gait and manner," and third-party information, as well as an officer's knowledge of the person's criminal history.
Rutledge also noted that the changes to state law on carrying a weapon, contained in Act 746 of 2013, do not give gun owners the right to open-carry in places where firearms are already prohibited by law.
That includes publicly owned buildings such as schools and city halls as well as the state Capitol and its grounds.
Private-property owners can still bar weapons on their own land, Rutledge wrote, and though Arkansans can open-carry, the laws and regulations governing conceal and carry licenses are unchanged.
Five states and Washington, D.C., have laws that prohibit open carrying of firearms, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The San Francisco-based group, an advocate for what it describes as "smart gun laws," also notes there are 15 states that allow open carry, but only with a permit or license.
Rutledge's opinion came more than two years after her predecessor, Democrat Dustin McDaniel, wrote that Act 746 of 2013 did not open the door for open carry.
Rutledge noted Friday that under the law prior to 2013, there were several Arkansas Supreme Court cases that suggested that the possession of a handgun meant it was to be used as a weapon.
But given the changes to the law in 2013 that require an investigator to show an "unlawful" intent to use the weapon, mere possession of a weapon would require a "strained" "logical leap" for prosecution, Rutledge wrote.
Earlier this week, White County District Judge Mark Derrick found Richard Chambless guilty of carrying a weapon and disorderly conduct after his arrest in May for walking in and out of a Bald Knob McDonald's several times with a weapon in plain sight in his waistband.
Hutchinson, who has stated he thinks Arkansas' laws allow for open carry, said earlier this week that Rutledge's opinion will be helpful but that ultimately the issue may need to be settled by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Metro on 08/29/2015