Catsavis: Firearms should be allowed in parks

The debate over allowing firearms in Fort Smith parks took a surprising turn Tuesday when Fort Smith City Director George Catsavis suggested during a study session that city rules be changed to allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to possess a firearm in a city park.

Firearm possession in city parks is not allowed by existing city regulations. Arkansas Carry, a gun rights group, has challenged the city’s rules. Specifically, Arkansas Carry alleged in a Jan. 13 letter to Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack that 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.

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.”

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.

Steve Jones, chairman of Arkansas Carry, responded to Wade’s opinion with a letter reaffirming their points in the Jan. 13 letter. However, in the response letter, Jones included language from a 2003 opinion from then Attorney General Mike Beebe.

“In 2003, by removing municipal parks from the list set forth in A.C.A. § 5-73-306, the General Assembly expressed a clear intent to permit persons with concealed handgun licenses to carry handguns in municipal parks,” noted Beebe’s opinion.

“I think we should get more information on this, but yes, I’d like for our citizens with a concealed carry (permit) to bring their guns (to a park) if they want to,” Catsavis said at the end of Tuesday’s (Jan. 22) Fort Smith Board of Directors’ study session.

The discussion was short-lived, with Catsavis and City Director Keith Lau debating the matter. Lau believes the issue should be settled outside the purview of the Board.

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“For us to look at this, it is just going to be an awfully divisive issue. ... We shouldn’t be in the middle of it,” Lau said, suggesting that the Arkansas Legislature or other authorities should determine how state law should be prescribed.

“I personally believe in the right to carry in parks, but I just don’t think the Board of Directors of the city of Fort Smith is the right venue for this decision,” Lau said in an interview after the meeting. “We need to be focused in on jobs and economic development.”

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Comments

common sense lau

Thank you, Director Lau. We have been through two years of far too much personal opinion on the board. Merry's and Weber's "do as I say" dog laws. Tyler's "my wife wants the trash in the alley" trash position. Weber and Merry again -- she with "I'm a mother first" and he with "I think it hurts tourists coming" positions on urban archery. As much as your opinion may matter at the country club over a sherry -- on the board, it has to be about research and fact; jurisdiction and precedent. Concealed guns in parks should be because Director Catsavis thinks it's alright. It should be because of state law and federal rulings in municipal cases. so ...you were saying something about jobs and economic development?

Multifaceted

One could say that Lau is passive, delegating issues to other parties while Merry et al are activists for progressive change. There will come a point where Mr. Lau's reluctance to have an opinion outside the box will come back to bite him. Yet it is too soon to tell. Is Mr. Lau a spectator with a vote or is he an independent leader with a conscience. Again, it is too soon to tell. Ideally, Mr. Lau will spearhead quiet, steady progress which is preferable to the heretofore sluggish pace of growth. As the Forward Fort Smith group touted, let's move-on. The past is what it was. Let's have some real change for a change.

TILT TILT TILT

I think Lau is trying to reset a tilted pinball machine Madness is repeating the same disasterous processes and expecting different outcomes. I wouldn't say "passive" I would say "smart"

Leadership vs Meddling

I can assure you Lau is not passive. I've known him many years. He understands true leadership through delegation of day-to-day issues to the departments responsible for the day-to-day operations. The Board should be setting goals and general direction for the city and providing the tools necessary for the municipal department leaders to move this city forward with the Board's vision for improved jobs, an improved quality of life, a truly progressive city to which young families want to move. Lau is not the type of city director we've seen repeatedly in the press over the last few years of laughable (shameful) meddling and micromanaging everything every city depertment tries to accomplish. Even taking numerous polls at taxpayer expense until they get the results they want. Lau is not passive. He's merely quietly deliberate and understands what true leadership is and what it should look like.

Trigger Happy Walk in the Park

Lau is right. Catsavis is right. If I feel the need to carry a gun in a city park, then I won't go to the park. It is not my job to make the park safe, it is the Police Department's responsibility.

carry laws

the single most important issue facing fort smith citizens today is the shrinking job market so lau is right! additionally, no city ordinance can supersede state or federal law so catsavis has a valid point also and perhaps the city attorney shold revisit his opinion. its nice to see two city directors that think and discuss issues that are important to the quality of life for fort smith citizens and not stuck in the mud of items that have very little import! if government tries to ban lawful citizens from having guns then only unlawful people will have the guns and that means the criminal will become more aggressive in their behavior, even in city parks. the police simply cannot provide protection to every home and every individual everywhere at every moment of the day or night so the lawful citizen should have the right to protect his home and body from harm! its just common sense!
the single most important issue facing fort smith citizens today is the shrinking job market so lau is right! additionally, no city ordinance can supersede state or federal law so catsavis has a valid point also and perhaps the city attorney shold revisit his opinion. its nice to see two city directors that think and discuss issues that are important to the quality of life for fort smith citizens and not stuck in the mud of items that have very little import! if government tries to ban lawful citizens from having guns then only unlawful people will have the guns and that means the criminal will become more aggressive in their behavior, even in city parks. the ...>> Read the entire comment.

here happy, you are not correct

Happy, in terms of permitting concealed weapons in a public park, a municipality can supercede state law by posting a ban along a 3 acre perimeter. Federal law, likewise, permits concealed carry but only to the extent it is not prohibited by either state or local government. Would you like a link?

thanks anon

appreciate your reply but if women or men do not feel safe walking in a public park, it just seems to make logical sense that lawful citizens should be able carry a weapon to protect themselves. criminals don't obey laws anyway so it seems that they would prey on people in public parks if they knew that lawful people in the park did not have the means to protect themselves. its my belief that a mugger would think twice about jumping out of the woods and confronting a woman walker or jogger if he thought that she may be a pistol packing momma!

Think twice?

You assume that the potential assailant would be thinking clearly. Still, you raise a point regarding the mental state of attackers. Mental illness is an obvious premise for debate regarding firearms regulation. Regulation is not unconstitutional. Justice Scalia will vouch for that. Until this nation fully addresses the mental illness and drug abuse problems which make it easy for deranged people to wander among us, we have to control access to firearms, especially those types of weapons appropriate for wars and law enforcement. Gimme a shotgun and I'll defend my home without killing. I'll just pepper 'em so we can roast 'em in jail.

Missing Link

Get to the point. Include your references "links" in the first place. You are wasting time and space otherwise.

After all, some animals are more equal...

The idea that the police exist to insure there will be no madmen in the parks is ridiculous. Only a police state could hope to achieve that level of "security". I walk my dog twice a day in area parks, and as a result I do know a bit about the reality on the ground, as opposed to the barely considered opinions of those at 50,000 feet. I posted the following to Michael Tilley last night, but I'll repeat it here. Perhaps it can provide a bit of perspective for those who think the issue doesn't bear consideration. It's very common to see women walkers and joggers carrying pepper spray and tasers in the parks. I've had women on walking paths come to me because they were worried about a strange-acting guy. I've known women walkers who walked back and forth on one side of the lake because they weren't comfortable walking past the woods on the far side of the lake. There was an episode not all that many years ago in which a young lady was accosted by a guy jumping out of the woods at Carol Anne Cross Park, and she only escaped by swimming across the lake. I'm not a particular fan of guns. I've never felt need to carry one. But I'm not a woman. Some (perhaps most) women obviously do feel the potential threat is real enough to take actions to protect themselves, and we have evidence that at least some times that fear is justified. It's ubiquitous enough that we owe it to women to address their concerns, real or not. So while I'd rather not have guns in the parks, if a woman feels that's the only way to sufficiently protect herself, I'm not going to tell her No.
The idea that the police exist to insure there will be no madmen in the parks is ridiculous. Only a police state could hope to achieve that level of "security". I walk my dog twice a day in area parks, and as a result I do know a bit about the reality on the ground, as opposed to the barely considered opinions of those at 50,000 feet. I posted the following to Michael Tilley last night, but I'll repeat it here. Perhaps it can provide a bit of perspective for those who think the issue doesn't bear consideration. It's very common to see women walkers and joggers carrying pepper spray and tasers in the parks. I've had women on walking paths come to me because ...>> Read the entire comment.

Concealed Carry

i agree with Director Catsavis. As a member of the House of Representatives when this law was amended, we fully intended to make it legal throughout Arkansas to carry concealed in any public park. Criminals do not respect words.

meddlin' while Rome Burns

tree canopy trepidation concealed carry dueling directors billboard buffoonery girls inc. fire sale looks like 2013 is picking up where the year of the Roaming Dog left off. Please, before this city goes totally down the drain, get back to some long range planning. If you don't know how to do it, please ask for help. We can't take another Treegate, True Up, and Trash trifecta of last minute agenda maneueverings. Finalize a riverfront development plan and set a timeline for its funding and completion. Get the Marshal Museum financed. Establish better zoning and insist on a better action plan to fill vacant spaces. Develop affordable housing solutions that work throughout the city by creating incentives to transition rental property into family owned residences. Do something now to Texas Corner before it becomes the next Mallalieu, and speaking of which, call Paul Beran on the carpet to complete what he started. Work with the state to clean up state highways or ask for them to be given to the city. Insist on line item project budget detail and operating plans before commiting to any more expenditures Create a plan to bring professional jobs and national interest to our city. Quit building "monkey bars" when you need "new schools."