The Pine Bluff City Council on Tuesday adopted a resolution asking the Arkansas General Assembly to clarify state law regarding the open carry of firearms.
The resolution, sponsored by Ward 4 Alderman Steven Mays, was prompted by a Feb. 15 event in which about 20 supporters of the right to carry handguns in plain view marched with their weapons visible in downtown Pine Bluff. The event was sponsored by a group called Arkansas Open Carry, and marchers were given a police escort as they made the round trip from the parking lot of the Sahara Shrine Temple to the Jefferson County Courthouse and back.
The group contends that Act 746, enacted by the state Legislature, gives citizens the legal right to carry a firearm either openly or concealed, as long as there is no intent to use the firearm for illegal purposes. Opponents argue that the law is unclear and was not intended to allow the open carry of firearms.
The march, and particularly the police escort, became a subject for debate at the Feb. 19 council meeting, where several council members questioned Police Chief Jeff Hubanks about the event. At Tuesday’s meeting, Mays said he has received several calls from residents concerned about the issue.
“Everyone says it’s not clear,” Mays said of Act 746. “We don’t want to wake up one morning and see everybody with guns on the their side.”
The resolution says the General Assembly “must take immediate action at its next regular session to address the confusion created by Act 746 …” and asks lawmakers to prohibit the open carry of firearms unless the person involved has obtained a permit from the Arkansas State Police.
The resolution also calls for the notification of city council members when city officials learn that events like the recent march are planned.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council declined to waive procedural rules and allow a second reading of an ordinance sponsored by Mays to close and abandon the north 20 feet of West 10th Avenue between Blake and Bay streets. Mays had hoped to have the ordinance read for a second and third time and put to a vote.
After Mayor Debe Hollingsworth asked for a motion to adjourn the meeting, Mays expressed displeasure with his colleagues for not allowing the second reading. He said the proposed ordinance is necessary to allow for what he described as a $1.3 million business development in the 4th Ward.
“I’m not going to let you all just throw it to the side,” Mays said. “I’m not going to let that happen.”
Alderwoman Thelma Walker responded.
“It was supposed to be read three times, and we haven’t had a chance to look at it,” Walker said. “You’re tying to rush it through.”
A resolution sponsored by Walker that would establish two internships in city government for University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff students was pulled at her request. Walker said she wanted to work with the city human resources department to establish parameters for the internships.
Hollingsworth announced that she will deliver the State of the City address at a town hall meeting Monday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. The address was postponed when February’s town hall meeting was canceled because of inclement weather.
Ward 3 Alderman Bill Brumett was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.