Obtaining concealed carry license isn’t easy or cheap

Since the Arkansas Legislature is hell-bent on solving the nation’s mass murder problem by putting more guns in the public arena, applications for permits to carry a concealed weapon will probably soar.

After all, if you don’t know who else is carrying a gun, or whether that person is sane, you’d better have your own piece, just in case a gunfight breaks out.

You can apply online through the Arkansas State Police Web site (www.asp.state.ar.us), but be advised that the process of obtaining a license is neither easy nor cheap.

To qualify for a license, you must:

• be a citizen of the United States, at least 21 years of age;

• have resided in Arkansas for the past 90 days;

• not suffer from a mental or physical deficiency that prevents the safe handling of a handgun;

• not have threatened or attempted suicide;

• not have been convicted of a felony (unless pardoned with firearms possession rights restored) or, if so, had the record sealed or expunged for a sentence prior to March 13, 1995;

• pass background checks through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System and the Arkansas State Police;

• not have chronically or habitually abused controlled substances or alcoholic beverages to the extent that your normal faculties are impaired;

• not have been adjudicated as mentally incompetent to been committed to a mental institution or mental health treatment facility;

• not be a fugitive from justice;

• pass a firearm safety training course approved by the ASP director; and

• sign a statement of allegiance to the U.S. and Arkansas constitutions.

You can fill out an online application form, or download a copy and mail it in, along with the application fee of $141.50 ( a little more online). Note: That doesn’t include the cost of the training course, which will run $100 or more.

You must also have a good set of your fingerprints made for submission to the FBI, and your training instructor may be able to take care of that.

Arkansas does not mandate how many hours of training applicants must obtain. Instead, your instructor is supposed to evaluate your competence with a live firing demonstration and must certify that you achieve “a basic level of knowledge, understanding and practical operation for safe handling of a handgun” before passing you.

You can also get a copy of the manual that contains the minimum information covered in the training from the State Police Web site. A list of certified instructors is also available.

The license is good for five years. After that, you can renew it for $60 or so, but you must also take a refresher course, which will cost about $40.

The application form asks a lot of questions related to mental health, the use of alcohol and controlled substances and criminal history. For example: “Have you ever been adjudicated as mentally defective or mentally incompetent?” If the answer is yes, the applicant is supposed to “explain further on a separate piece of paper giving details of the proceedings or providing court documentation.”

Another example: “Do you chronically and habitually use any alcoholic beverage to the extent that your normal faculties are impaired?” In this case, though, the form does not ask for further information if the answer is yes.

Of course, no one is going to answer yes to any of these questions. Thus, the burden is on the State Police and FBI to double-check the answers according to available records. The problem is, as I’ve explained in previous columns, the records these agencies have available are incomplete. And there may be no record for a guy who gets drunk every night or one who takes medication to control a mental defect.

The applicant must affirm that all answers are truthful and warns that giving a false statement could result in criminal prosecution and preclude any future chances of obtaining a concealed handgun.

Therefore, the process depends both on the truthfulness of applicants and the integrity of the background check system. The Legislature should be focusing on making sure the latter is as strong as possible. But Arkansas doesn’t even make its database of people who have been adjudicated as mentally ill available to the FBI.

Virginia didn’t do that either until a guy who had been found mentally ill bought guns and ammunition and wreaked havoc on the Virginia Tech campus.

Instead, our lawmakers are wasting their time with irresponsible legislation like House Bill 1243, which would allow university faculty and staff to carry concealed weapons on campus. At least it would allow colleges and universities to opt out annually, and they will.

The Legislature has already opened the doors of churches to people carrying guns, and now they’re working on a bill that would keep secret the names of everyone who obtains a concealed carry license. So any church foolish enough to adopt such a policy can’t even check the authenticity of a license.

By the way, the list of places where carrying a concealed weapon is prohibited by Arkansas law still includes meetings of the General Assembly and committees of the General Assembly. Where is the legislation to change that? Surely, the legislators would like to feel safer, too.

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Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at royo@suddenlink.net.