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Arkansas panel will review gun laws with an eye to simplification

Veetek Witkowski holds a newly assembled AR-15 rifle at the Stag Arms company in New Britain, Conn., in April 2013.
Charles Krupa
Veetek Witkowski holds a newly assembled AR-15 rifle at the Stag Arms company in New Britain, Conn., in April 2013.

From the Arkansas Advocate:

Arkansas lawmakers will spend the next year holding hearings on the state’s firearms laws with the goal of recommending legislation to align statutes with the Legislature’s strong gun-rights stance.

On Thursday, members of the Arkansas Legislative Council’s Game & Fish/State Policesubcommittee heard a rundown of a planned series of twice-monthly meetings that will review current laws, hear from the public and provide opportunities for making recommendations.

Panel co-chair Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, said the subcommittee will “study what we’ve got and see where we need to make adjustments.”

“We’re not in the business of trying to take rights away or further convolute what we already have,” he said.

The issue of conflicting and confusing state firearms laws arose publicly in July at a meeting of the subcommittee at which concealed-carry permit trainers, law enforcement officers and others testified about the need for clarity after the passage of Act 777 this year.

That law specifies that a person is not required to obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun in Arkansas. Arkansas repealed its law requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon in public in 2021, and amended the law this year to clarify that concealed-carry licensing is solely to allow reciprocity for licensees who travel to other states that require a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

Some testified at the July meeting that some laws governing state facilities and hunting cause confusion because they prohibit carrying sidearms for self-protection.

In August, the Arkansas Legislative Council directed the Game & Fish/State Police subcommittee to conduct a study of all relevant statutes and report back with recommendations by the fall of 2024.

On Thursday, Jill Thayer, chief legal counsel for the Bureau of Legislative Research, gave the subcommittee an agenda for its hearings, starting with a review of federal law in November. Subsequent meetings will occur twice a month, with the first meeting devoted to informational presentations on specific topics followed by a second meeting at which lawmakers will discuss recommendations. The agenda calls for meetings in August and September of next year to finalize recommendations and complete a report for the ALC Executive subcommittee by Oct. 1, 2024.

The panel will not meet during next year’s fiscal session in April and May.

Subcommittee co-chair Sen. Ricky Hill, R-Cabot, said people who want to speak to the panel at its meetings will be able to sign up online as well as in person on meeting days. Those who don’t sign in or show up late after the signup-sheet is picked up at the start of the meeting will not be able to testify, he said. He also urged people who are part of a group to let just one person testify.

“We don’t need to hear the same things over and over and over. We can hear the first time. Let’s get one person to be the spokesman for the group and give them plenty of time to speak instead of having to limit the time,” Hill said.

Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, asked Hill to add the Arkansas Department of Transportation to the list of agencies that should have representatives at future subcommittee meetings.

Rice thanked the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission for acting quickly to remove signage at some locations that “was contrary to what we feel Arkansas law is.” He noted some concerns were expressed about the safety of workers, “but the bottom line is that people have the right to personal protection.”

ARDOT, on the other hand, interprets the law differently regarding rest areas, Rice said.

“They do not feel that you can go into their facilities without possessing an enhanced endorsement [on a concealed-carry permit],” he said. “While I’d like to think that would make those facilities safer, a criminal’s not going to read a sign. If I walk into one of those or my family walks into one of those, I want them to have the right to protect themselves if needed.

“We do need to get on the same page,” Rice added.

Hill agreed to add ARDOT to the meeting invitation list and said that if the agency doesn’t want people to carry guns in rest areas, “they need to provide security for the women and kids that stop there because that is a dangerous place to be … They need to be on notice for that themselves.”

In his 50-year career, Sonny Albarado has been an investigations editor, a business editor, a city editor, an environmental reporter and a government reporter at newspapers in Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana. He retired from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2020 after serving as projects editor for 12 ½ years.