BENTONVILLE (KFSM) - Gov. Asa Hutchinson says Arkansas law does not prohibit openly carrying a handgun as long as the person with the gun doesn't intend to commit a crime.
"My take on the law is unless you have criminal intent, then there's not any prohibition," Hutchinson, a Republican, told 5NEWS on Friday (June 5).
However, the governor said Arkansans should check with the prosecuting attorney in their area before openly carrying a handgun to be certain the prosecutor won't pursue charges.
The governor addressed the issue when 5NEWS asked him about it in an interview in Bentonville on Friday. Hutchinson was attending a ceremony for graduates of Circuit Judge Tom Smith's Drug and Veterans Courts.
The governor added he is not in favor of seeing large numbers of people carrying handguns openly.
"I don't want a society in which everybody is open carrying, so I think it's not something you encourage," he said. "I think you have to evaluate it in terms of what the constitutional rights are and what the law is."
The open carry issue began to percolate this week when several sheriffs and other elected officials expressed their views on the topic.
Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge are among those who said this week they believe current law in Arkansas allows people to carry handguns openly.
Responding to a question from a pro-gun Facebook site, the Republican lieutenant governor recently reiterated a view he has previously expressed in saying he thinks open carry is legal. Griffin's office confirmed that statement on Tuesday (June 2).
A bill approved in the 2013 legislative session has some split on whether it allows people to carry handguns openly in a holster into a public setting. Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat who was the attorney general at the time, said open carry of handguns is illegal in the state under that law, Act 746.
Griffin and Rutledge are among those who say open carry is legal until the Legislature passes a measure clarifying the issue.
"Some legislators that supported the bill (in 2013) said they approve of that result and others say they didn’t intend that," Griffin responded on an Arkansas Carry Facebook page. "Regardless, despite what former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said, I believe the law as written does authorize open carry. Some legislators have suggested making changes to the law to make open carry authority more clear, for example, but their specific proposals will have to be addressed in a general session."
Rutledge, a Republican, told 5NEWS on Monday (June 1) she believes Act 746 allows for open carry.
“I interpret it to mean an individual may carry so long as he or she does so without the intent to unlawfully employ it against another person," she said in a prepared statement. "But anytime law enforcement and citizens disagree on a law we need to ensure there is clarity to protect our citizens. I am committed to working with the General Assembly to clarify any confusion surrounding Act 746 and its intent.”
Benton County Sheriff Kelley Cradduck said this week his deputies will not arrest anyone who openly carries a handgun.
"As long as the law is written as it is then we will not arrest any citizen for simply exercising their right to open carry," the sheriff wrote on his Facebook page on Monday (June 1).
Cradduck said he posted his views on the issue because an overwhelming number of people have asked for his thoughts about open carry.
People committing crimes while openly carrying a handgun will still find themselves on the wrong side of the law, he noted.
"If there are other exigent circumstances involved, such as they are committing a crime while openly carrying, then they stand a good chance of being charged for whatever crime they committed, along with the charge of carrying a firearm without a concealed handgun license," he wrote.
Cradduck said in his Facebook post that he will stand by his position until state legislators approve a measure clarifying the law.
"Until the legislative bodies come together and write the law very clearly stating if and where you may or may not openly carry without a license, then I will not permit my deputies to arrest individuals who are carrying their firearms in an open fashion," he wrote.
In 2013, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said he agreed with then-Prosecuting Attorney John Threet that open carry is permitted. Threet, who later won election as a Circuit Court judge, said he didn't plan on prosecuting gun owners who openly carry firearms in Washington County. Helder said he would use Threet’s opinion in instructing his deputies on the legality of firearm open carry.
Sheriffs in Pope and Johnson counties also said this week their deputies will not make arrests solely if someone is openly carrying a handgun. The Sebastian County sheriff also said he thinks the law does not prohibit open carry.