More guns at the legislature: Rep. Richard Womack plans to run a bill next week to eliminate nearly all gun-free zones in the state.

The bill would drastically reduce the number of places under which current law prohibits firearms except under certain circumstances. The following would be eliminated from the prohibited list: K-12 public or private schools, school buses, designated bus stops, public and private universities and colleges, publicly owned buildings or facilities, on the State Capitol grounds, and the State Capitol Building and the Arkansas Justice Building.

Current law already has a tangle of regulations that allow certain people to possess firearms in such locations under certain circumstances — for example, those who undergo extra training for a so-called “enhanced carry” license can carry weapons at the Capitol, and certain designated staffers can carry weapons in schools. Womack’s bill would open things up to anyone legally carrying a gun, so long as they were not otherwise violating federal or state law. That would appear to allow anyone with a concealed carry license, for example, to carry the gun in a K-12 school (the age requirement for a CCL is 21).

Regarding possession of a firearm on public property, Womack’s bill states: “A person may carry a firearm in a publicly owned, leased, or rented building or facility, on public land, on a public roadway, and on a public sidewalk.” It retains the following exceptions as remaining “gun-free zones,” where carrying weapons is only allowed by certain persons prescribed by law:

(1) Where prohibited by federal law;
(2) Into a facility operated by the Department of Correction, the Department of Community Correction, or the Division of Youth Services, or a county jail;
(3)(A) Into a courtroom while court is in session without
(B) However, a law enforcement officer, officer of the court, bailiff, or any other person authorized by the court is permitted to possess a handgun in the courtroom of any court or a courthouse of this state;
(4) At a sporting event at a public college or university;
(5) Into the Arkansas State Hospital; or
(6) Into a facility on the campus of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Womack said that his bill would have no bearing on the still murky legal question of “open carry” — carrying a handgun in plain view without a license. The bill would eliminate many of the current restrictions on possessing guns in certain areas, but otherwise existing law would prevail on the question of whether open carry was allowed, which is explicitly prohibited in certain locations. For example, federal law prohibits unlicensed carrying of weapons within 1,000 feet of a K-12 school, so only CCL holders would gain the right to carry weapons in schools, Womack said. Nevertheless, gun safety advocates have expressed concern about the potential for the bill to expand the number of locations where open carry was allowable under the law.

Womack offered the familiar arguments for his bill, contending that gun-free zones were more at risk for mass shootings and that allowing citizens to carry guns in these locations would deter such events. Regarding concerns about the bill expressed by gun safety advocates, he said, “I think they’re dealing more with emotions than facts. I think it’s unfounded fear.”

Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the state police, said that the Arkansas State Police was examining the proposal and had some concerns:

The Arkansas State Police is continuing to research the bill to determine what impact of the legislation might have, particularly, on public property and public buildings.

I can tell you we have concerns with respect to what appears to be a provision in the bill that may permit firearms to be carried by non-law enforcement personnel inside a police or sheriff’s department.

The ongoing research also involves determining whether any existing federal laws may contradict the proposed legislation.

Bottom line, I believe before the House Judiciary Committee convenes next week; we will by then have more to say about the bill and our position.