Two bills filed last week to expand concealed-weapon carry permits in the state are the result of a mandate from voters last year, some lawmakers say.
On Wednesday, Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, filed House Bill 1190 to lower the age requirement for a concealed-carry permit from 21 to 18 for active military members.
The same day, Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, filed Senate Bill 159, which would allow permit holders who work at county courthouses to take weapons to work.
The bills are not the first and won't be the last pieces of legislation seeking to expand gun rights, according to several legislators.
Earlier in the legislative session, Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, filed HB1077, seeking to require public universities and colleges to allow full-time staff members who have gun permits to take the weapons on campus.
Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, said he is working on legislation to lower the cost of obtaining concealed-carry permits.
Hammer said voters have made clear that their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is a top priority.
With Republicans now holding all seven state constitutional offices, and the party in the majority in the House and Senate, Dotson said, it shouldn't be a surprise that gun rights have surfaced in this legislative session because they're "an important" issue for the GOP.
Hammer said Republicans need to push ahead in securing those rights to fulfill their promise to voters.
"You take ground when you have the troops," Hammer said. "Right now, [Republicans] have the troops, so we'll take the ground to afford [gun owners] as many rights as possible."
Hammer's bill, as written, would allow military commissioned or noncommissioned officers, even if they're under 21, to obtain state conceal-and-carry permits through the same process that private citizens use.
He said he plans to amend his bill so that any active-duty or honorably discharged serviceman can carry a weapon at a younger age than civilians.
"The bottom line is ... if we can send our 18-year-olds off to war, and they can be trained to the level where they're proficient to defend [themselves] in war, it's not right that they come back and not be able to defend themselves back in their homeland," Hammer said. "We need to give them that consideration."
Hammer said the bill would not cover ROTC members who are 18 years old but have not served on active duty.
Collins-Smith's legislation would let county employees -- ranging from clerks to judges or clerical staff members -- who work primarily in courthouses to take firearms to work with them.
The Arkansas Judicial Council, which represents judges in the state, declined to comment about the legislation until it could consult with its members.
Collins-Smith did not return calls seeking comment, but Hammer said Collins-Smith's courthouse bill and Collins' campus-guns bill have a common thread -- that Arkansans feel they should be allowed to protect themselves.
"Some of these ideas are not new ideas, but they've had time to sit out there and be thought about more, and representatives are more receptive and open," Hammer said.
"Bad guys don't care if you're in a courthouse or a school. ... They're going to come for you. People need to be able to defend themselves where they are."
Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne, said she intends to file legislation that would allow concealed-carry permit-holders to take weapons onto state grounds, such as parks and schools, as long as the weapons are left in vehicles.
Originally, Gray said, she favored a bill that would allow permit-holders to carry weapons on all state grounds, including at the Capitol, but after discussing it with more than 40 fellow legislators, she decided to take an incremental approach.
The endgame for many Republicans, Gray said, is to turn Arkansas into an open-carry state, where weapons can be carried and visible in public.
"I think right now, a lot of us think we can broaden the scope of conceal-and-carry to allow us to carry more freely in hopes of, at some point, getting to true open carry," Gray said.
Metro on 02/01/2015
Print Headline: 2 new bills take aim at widening gun-carry rights