By Representative Nate Bell
There have been lots of questions, media reports, opinions and other discussion of Act 746 of 2013. As a sponsor of the bill, I’ve decided to share my point of view with those of you I represent.
The new Act results from passage of HB1700. The bill passed the House 82-1 after passing the House Judiciary committee without controversy. When presented in the Senate, it passed 28-0 with 7 members not voting. On April 4, Governor Beebe signed it into law as Act 746.
The new law addresses two distinct areas of Arkansas law. The first change is to 5-73-119 (e) where the language was changed from “a defense to prosecution” to “it is permissible to carry.” This section is also altered by the new law to add clarifying language to 5-73-119 (e)7 that clearly defines a journey as travel “beyond the county in which the person lives.”
The most significant change made by the new law is contained in 5-73-120 (a). The language of the bill reads as follows: A person commits the offense of carrying a weapon if he or she possesses a handgun, knife, or club on or about his or her person, in a vehicle occupied by him or her, or otherwise readily available for use with a purpose to attempt to unlawfully employ the handgun, knife, or club as a weapon against a person. The underlined text is the new language added to the existing law. It was the intent of the sponsors that this new language would alter the burden of proof required to convict a person of carrying a weapon so that individuals who did not intend to use their weapon to commit a crime would not be subject to prosecution and that persons who indicated an unlawful purpose for possessing a weapon would still be subject to criminal penalties.
The Attorney General has issued an advisory opinion that addresses the first section of the new law. It is his opinion that the language it contains does not permit the open carry of a firearm. You can see his opinion here: http://ag.arkansas.gov/opinions/docs/2013-047.html
It was the intent of the sponsors of Act 746 to decriminalize the open carry of a firearm by persons not prohibited from legally possessing the firearm. It’s my belief that the language contained in 5-73-120 (a) will effectively do so when the new law takes effect on August 16th. There are people who believe that the new law also will allow concealed carry without a concealed carry license. I disagree with this viewpoint based on several legal points that will be debated in the courts over the next few months. My advice to all interested parties is to continue to act as if Act 746 has not been enacted until test cases have been before the courts and adjudicated completely.
If you have questions about this or any other action of the Arkansas legislature, please take the time to contact me to discuss. I’m also available to assist you with issues of concern with state agencies or departments. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone/text at 479-234-2092. I appreciate the opportunity to represent you in Little Rock.