Attorney opines on firearm rules in Fort Smith parks

Fort Smith ordinances are allowed to regulate firearm possession in city parks, but not in city cemeteries, according to a legal opinion received by Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack.

Gun Rights group Arkansas Carry recently alleged that the city of Fort Smith violated portions of Arkansas law (A.C.A. Sections 14-16-504 and 14-54-1411) with its prohibition on the carry of firearms at public parks.

The allegation came in the form of a letter calling for the repeal of sections 18-67, 18-75, and 7-29 of the Fort Smith Municipal Code, which prohibit firearm possession in parks and cemeteries.

Arkansas Carry is basing its argument on A.C.A. Section 14-54-1411, which states “A local unit of government shall not enact any ordinance or regulation pertaining to, or regulate in any other manner, the ownership, transfer, transportation, carrying, or possession of firearms, ammunition for firearms, or components of firearms, except as otherwise provided in state or federal law.”

Arkansas Carry also challenges the city’s authority to deny owners of concealed handgun permits to possess a weapon at a city park.

In 2009, Arkansas Carry convinced Sebastian County to remove their firearms law from the county code. In 2012, the cities of Russellville and Conway considered passing firearms ordinances, but these plans were dropped after receiving pressure from Arkansas Carry.

In a letter dated Jan. 17, Fort Smith attorney Wyman Wade Jr. wrote to Gosack that section 18-67 “is authorized as permissible municipal legislation on a state affair” and is “not in conflict with state law. Wade did recommend an amendment to 18-67 that essentially clarifies the prohibition against carrying a firearm – with the exception of local, state and federal officers – in “any publicly owned building or facility.”

As to the question of concealed handgun permits, Wade also said state law and an Arkansas Attorney General opinion provide cities the authority to broadly prohibit handgun possession.

“We believe that it is a hyper technical argument that the City may only post a sign prohibiting the carrying of a handgun into a park by a person with a concealed handgun permit, but cannot enact an ordinance to that effect,” Wade noted.

However, Wade did recommend that Fort Smith code section 18-75 be amended to provide more precise detail on park signage required to warn that “carrying a handgun is prohibited.”

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As to carrying a handgun in municipal cemeteries, Wade said there is no “enabling authority” and recommended the city strike from section 7-29 the language: “No firearms of any nature are allowed.”

Steve Jones, chairman of Arkansas Carry, said the group would likely issue a response on Friday (Jan. 18).

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