I asked Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office today for an explanation about why, two and a half months after a legislative request, the office hasn’t issued an opinion on whether open carry of firearms is legal without exception in Arkansas.
The response from spokesman Judd Deere:
No specific timetable to offer. We do our best to turn opinion requests around within 30 days but sometimes they take longer depending upon what else was already in the que and bound by statute to issue within a certain timeframe.
Nate Bell, Jon Woods and Tim Lemons asked for the opinion June 10. They had a reasonable expectation that Rutledge would say “lock and load,” or the legal equivalent of her approval of open carry.
This followed a published remark by Rutledge that she believed open carry was the law, despite an opinion to the contrary by her predecessor, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. This arise from either legislative malfeasance or subterfuge — your pick — in 2013. A bill to allow open carry was decisively defeated. But a bill, represented as a “clean up” of the law that allows people to take weapons on “journeys” was written in such a way that gun advocates argue it legalized open carry (and perhaps did other damage to gun restriction laws). McDaniel said, officially, that the technical correction bill did NOT legalize open carry. Rutledge has said personally that it did. In an interview with KFSM, she said:
“I interpret it to mean an individual may carry so long as he or she does so without the intent to unlawfully employ it against another person,” she said in a prepared statement. “But anytime law enforcement and citizens disagree on a law we need to ensure there is clarity to protect our citizens. I am committed to working with the General Assembly to clarify any confusion surrounding Act 746 and its intent.”
She made no such attempt in the 2015 legislative session, unfortunately, nor did anyone else. You get the idea that the gun crowd would like to force this interpretation into law without forcing legislators to vote on it. Some people in law enforcement prefer the McDaniel interpretation, as do many businesses. Open pistol and rifle packing tends to leave many others less safe, rather than more.
Just last week, a pistol packer was arrested in Bald Knob for toting a gun into a McDonald’s. That case is in district court today and KATV is reporting that the judge, Mark Derrick, is not allowing media into court. Huh?
Earlier, a man open carrying in a Walmart in Searcy had his concealed carry license confiscated because of his open carry of a firearm.
But none of this explains the lack of an opinion from Rutledge. It has led to speculation that the delay signals a difference of opinion within the office on turning away from the office’s past guidance. Time will tell.
UPDATE: That case in Bald Knob has resulted late this afternoon in a conviction of the defendant for carrying a weapon and disorderly conduct. Does it have the makings of a test case, given the other elements? We’ll see. It’s a long path from district court to circuit court to the court of appeals and, possibly, the Arkansas Supreme Court.
It would really be better for the legislature to settle this one way or another, for or against open carry. If they had the gumption to do so.