Supporters of the right to carry handguns in plain view gathered Saturday morning on the parking lot of the Sahara Shrine Temple in Pine Bluff, then marched with a police escort to the Jefferson County Courthouse and back.
The march, billed as a “constitutional carry (open or concealed) celebration walk,” was one in a series of events sponsored by a group called Arkansas Carry, according to Nicholas Stehle, chairman of the group.
“We’ve had celebration walks in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Conway, Bryant and Maumelle and walks are planned in Jacksonville and Russellville,” Stehle said. “Other groups are planning walks in all four corners of the state.”
The group contends that Act 746, enacted by the state Legislature, gives “law-abiding 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.
Stehle said “a few police departments don’t agree with our contention.”
He said prosecutors face a “very high bar” in prosecuting a person for carrying a weapon because they have to prove intent, and existing laws prohibiting convicted felons and some other persons from possession of a firearm are still in effect.
“There are 44 states that permit open carry and a lot of those states never made carrying a firearm illegal,” Stehle said.
He also said “there is no evidence that open carry invites problems.
“There’s a lot of data that only criminals conceal firearms,” Stehle said. “They also don’t use holsters. If you see a person with a firearm that isn’t using a holster, the chances are almost 100 percent they’re going to use that firearm for something illegal. There’s no data that open carry causes any problems.”
He said Arkansas Carry always works with law enforcement agencies when it plans events like the one Saturday.
“We’re concerned about the safety of the public and about officer safety,” Stehle said, adding that before any walk, a safety briefing is always held, which will include topics such as handgun etiquette.
“Things like always use a holster and never put your hand on your gun,” he said. “That can be taken as an offensive posture.”
Nathan Irvin was one of those who marched to the courthouse and back, handgun in plain view in a holster on his belt.
He said he had been carrying a firearm for about 12 years but before Act 746, carried it concealed.
“I believe everybody who is not a convicted felon has a right to carry a weapon,” he said, adding that in the years he has carried a gun, he has “never had to pull it out.”
Irvin also said he viewed being able to carry a weapon as an issue of personal safety.
Three marked and one unmarked police car escorted the group of about 20 on their walk to the courthouse and back, which was conducted without incident.