Gun Bills Continue to Make News, As Open-Carry Is Revived

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As legislative leaders attempt to shift the focus in Little Rock from social policy to budgetary matters, gun issues continue to make news, especially in Northwest Arkansas, home to many sponsors of this session’s gun bills.

During a brief address Saturday (March 9) in Benton County, Rep. Sue Scott, R-Rogers, discussed a plan to revive an amended version of her open-carry measure, House Bill 1408.

The amended bill, which she referred to as a “baby step,” would protect those with a concealed-carry permit if their firearm inadvertently becomes exposed, as when the wind blows a jacket open, in unincorporated areas, she said.

The amended version is expected to be heard Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee, Scott said.

Originally Scott had wanted Arkansans with concealed-carry permits to be allowed to carry handguns openly, but when House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, and Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, expressed opposition, that idea lost its pop.

At the last minute, Scott, a first-term House member, amended the bill to limit open carry to rural, unincorporated areas, but even that version failed, coming up short by two votes last month in the House Judiciary Committee.

During the Saturday morning event in the Rogers Public Library, Scott announced her intention to introduce the amended “baby-step” version of her open-carry bill. About 60 people attended the event hosted by Conservative Arkansas.

Scott later told 5NEWS she plans to meet next week with Carter about the “baby-step” version, adding she expects it to pass. She said the amended bill is not what she had hoped for when the session began, but she considers it a first step toward her goal of one day passing open-carry legislation.

The featured guest Saturday was Carter, who spoke to a receptive audience about proposals to reduce the number of Arkansans in poverty receiving Medicaid assistance. On another budgetary matter, he said a tax-cut package of $100 million or more could be rolled out soon.

Those issues are still mainly in the discussion phase in Little Rock, though, and, while some legislators say the media is at fault for the attention gun and abortion measures have received this year, many lawmakers acknowledge the overwhelming response they have gotten from constituents since the 2013 session began in January has been on social issues such as those, not the budget. The General Assembly has overridden two of Beebe’s vetoes on abortion bills, for instance, major events by almost anyone’s definition of news.

Budget and tax matters are expected to receive more attention as they come up for votes in the General Assembly. Typically those issues are decided toward the end of the session.

Carter did not discuss gun bills Saturday during his presentation on Medicaid and other budget issues, but during a question-and-answer session he fielded the only question that came up about the open-carry issue.

Carter said he has a “closet full” of guns at home, adding he has taken criticism for his stance on the open-carry issue. However, he said he would rather be up-front about it so that people know where he stands.

Later, in an interview with 5NEWS, he said he has a 9 mm handgun at home and is “certainly in favor of the concealed-carry laws,” but opposes letting people openly carry handguns in public settings such as restaurants.

Carter, who became speaker this year, said he once had a concealed-carry permit himself but didn’t get it renewed after the gun was stolen. He didn’t elaborate on the details of the stolen firearm.

“I had my concealed carry right when the law got passed,” Carter said. “Actually you don’t hear this story of when my gun got stolen, and I’ve never reapplied for the concealed carry.”

After Carter addressed those in attendance, Scott and other lawmakers each spoke for a short time. During her brief address, Scott announced her plan to revive the “baby-step” open-carry bill.

In addition, as Scott has previously told 5NEWS and reiterated in an interview Saturday, she also does not have a concealed-carry permit, saying firearms could disrupt a pacemaker defibrillator she uses. However, Scott said she owns guns.

Scott’s bill is not the only gun measure originating in the northern part of the state to generate news during the 2013 session. This is the first session since right after the Civil War that Republicans have had the majority in the Senate and House.

Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, introduced legislation allowing faculty and staff members at public universities, colleges and community colleges to carry concealed handguns, if those faculty and staff members have a concealed-carry permit. The measure allows the governing board of those institutions to vote annually to opt out.

Also, Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, introduced a bill allowing Arkansans with concealed-carry permits to take handguns into churches.

Beebe signed both bills into law.