LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas – A dozen gun rights supporters plan to march in a western Arkansas city this weekend with their firearms on display to highlight a law that they argue allows the open carry of handguns, despite an attorney general's opinion saying otherwise.
Arkansas Carry, a gun rights group, on Saturday plans to hold an invitation-only "open carry" march in Fort Smith to highlight the disputed law, which took effect Aug. 16. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel last month said the new law makes technical corrections regarding the possession of a handgun but didn't remove the restrictions on carrying weapons openly.
Arkansas law currently states that being on a journey is a defense to prosecution for illegally carrying a weapon, but doesn't define what constitutes a journey. The new law defines a journey as traveling "beyond the county in which the person lives."
The head of Arkansas Carry, which has about 200 members in the state, says the advisory opinion by McDaniel is wrong.
"Basically we're going to do the walk because it's legal and we're trying to show that act 746 does authorize open carry contrary to what the attorney general said," Steve Jones, the group's chairman, said Thursday.
Jones said the group coordinated the event with police and prosecutors, though city officials say they're staying out of the debate over McDaniel's opinion. In an email to officers, Fort Smith Police Chief Kevin Lindsey wrote that the city prosecutor advised him there wouldn't be a violation of the law unless "an officer could prove that there was an unlawful attempt to employ a handgun, knife, or club as a weapon against a person."
PHOTO: A semi-automatic handgun and a holster are displayed at a North Little Rock, Ark., gun shop Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. A march by by advocates of open carrying of guns is planed for Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 in Fort Smith, Ark. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)A semi-automatic handgun and a holster are displayed at a North Little Rock, Ark., gun shop Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. A march by by advocates of open carrying of guns is planed for Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 in Fort Smith, Ark. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
A spokesman for the department said there will be a patrol car on hand at Saturday's march.
"This has been coordinated and we've conversed back and forth that as long as everyone is lawfully in possession with the first initial stages, it is permissible to carry a handgun under these certain situations and if they're carrying it not with the intent to, they can't be arrested for carrying a weapon," Sgt. Daniel Grubbs, a spokesman for the department. "The chief is not really getting into the debate of agreeing or disagreeing with the AG's opinion. It's 'you've given us a scenario, here's what you'd like to do, as long as everyone is lawfully in possession, they're legally able to possess one and they don't commit any type of crime, no one is going to be arrested.'"
A spokesman for McDaniel declined to comment on Saturday's event. The attorney general, in last month's advisory opinion, said the "journey" exception was meant to allow Arkansans to "protect themselves from the dangers of the open road."
"A person does not fall within Act 746's 'journey' exception to the statutes relating to the possession and carrying of a handgun simply because the person has left the county in which he or she lives," the opinion said. "Stated differently, I do not interpret Act 746 as authorizing so-called 'open carry.'"
Jones said the group is looking at holding similar marches in other cities to highlight the law.