Dustin McDaniel: New Gun Law Doesn't Allow Open Carry

LITTLE ROCK - A state law that takes effect next month doesn't legalize the open carry of handguns despite the insistence of some gun rights advocates, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in an advisory opinion to legislators Monday.

McDaniel said the measure signed into law that makes technical corrections regarding the possession of a handgun 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."

"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.'"

Gun rights advocates have argued that the change, which takes effect Aug. 16, clears the way for Arkansans to openly carry firearms. The head of Arkansas Carry, a group that has made that argument, said he thought McDaniel's opinion was incorrect and believed Arkansas law had even allowed open carry before this year's change.

Steve Jones, Arkansas Carry's chairman, said he would advise members that they would likely be arrested if they carried handguns openly on a journey.

"I've really got a bad problem with the assumption that open carry is automatically against the law unless the state allows it," Jones said.

In the opinion, McDaniel said the journey exception was meant to allow Arkansans to "protect themselves from the dangers of the open road."

"The term should therefore be narrowly construed, in my opinion, to mean the action of moving from one place to another via some mode of transportation," the opinion said. "It should not be construed to include any activities incidental to the act of transportation."

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, requested McDaniel's legal opinion on the new law.

Rep. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, the chief sponsor of the new law, didn't immediately return a call late Monday.

The law was one of several lawmakers considered this year to loosen the state's firearms restrictions after Republicans won control of the House and Senate. Other measures signed into law include legislation allowing concealed handguns at churches and other places of worship, if they choose to allow them.

Lawmakers also approved a measure allowing faculty and staff at colleges and universities to carry concealed handguns on campus, but so far most of the state's schools have opted out of that law.

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