A widely watched “open carry” walk held Saturday morning (Aug. 24) in Fort Smith was an event the organizers were hoping would not end with a bang. And it didn’t.
Between 25 and 30 people, most with a handgun holstered to their sides, met before 9 a.m. in a cul-de-sac near the intersection of Massard Road and Zero Street (Arkansas 255). From there they walked north up Massard Road in what event organizer Steve Jones said is “only a celebration and nothing more” of Act 746.
Arkansas Carry, a group advocating for fewer restrictions on gun possession laws, believes Act 746 allows for open carry of a handgun in Arkansas. The Act, which made technical revisions to Arkansas’ gun laws, was approved in the recent General Assembly.
However, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued an opinion on July 8 saying that Act 746 does not make legal the open carry of a handgun. In the opinion, requested by Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, McDaniel said just because someone may be going on a journey, which is defined as "beyond the county in which the person lives," it does not mean that they are able to openly carry a firearm on his or her waist.
"To the contrary, the journey exception applies only to 'travel beyond the county in which a person lives' – a narrow range of activity inconsistent with the concept of 'open carry,’" McDaniel noted in the opinion.
McDaniel also said the journey rule generally applied to keeping a weapon within a vehicle, not on an individual.
Jones, who is chairman of Arkansas Carry, said the AG’s opinion was “very incoherent” and was “devoid of examples of pertinent state law or previous judicial rulings."
Jones said in the Saturday morning pre-walk address that possession of a gun is a Constitutional right, but there are those who seek to “take all these rights back.”
Jones also issued a few rules before the walk began. He said no one should touch their gun or remove it from its holster. If they wanted to compare weapons, they should do that elsewhere.
“Please don’t pull your handgun out and show it to somebody,” Jones said.
He also said those in the walk should allow the police to deal with a heckler or anyone else who wants to challenge the walk. Members of the Fort Smith Police Department observed the walk.
“But it would take an idiot right now to go for your gun,” Jones said.
Jones ended his pre-walk comments by encouraging everyone to be safe and responsible because the country “is watching us today.” Indeed, several regional and national news outlets have written about the open carry walk. Jones has been upset with some of the news reports – including from The City Wire – that suggested the walk is a protest of McDaniel’s opinion.
“(I)t really isn't even about the AG opinion on the journey. It's about how the new law really did change things and we are celebrating,” Jones told The City Wire.
After the walk ended, Jones was asked if he or others now felt free to walk in Fort Smith with their handguns holstered in the open.
“I would say we pretty much proved today that you can walk freely in Fort Smith,” Jones said, but later qualified the answer by stopping short of saying it’s legal to do so.
Fort Smith Police Chief Kevin Lindsey has said the department “would not enforce the terms of the Act” based on McDaniel’s opinion. Lindsey said he was told by John Settle, Fort Smith prosecuting attorney, that “just carrying it unconcealed is not enough” to cause an arrest. Lindsey told The City Wire that he and Settle’s view is that there has to be proof an “attempt to unlawfully use” a weapon against another person.
Jones said Arkansas Carry is considering other open carry walks around the state, “but nothing officially has been planned.”