LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — A 2013 Arkansas law allows people to openly carry handguns if they don't plan on using them illegally against someone, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Friday, contrasting with her Democratic predecessor's stance.
The Republican said in an advisory opinion that the Legislature generally allowed open carry when it amended laws on illegal carrying of weapons, though she said she didn't recommend the practice.
"This means in general merely possessing a handgun on your person or in your occupied vehicle does not violate (the law) and may be done if it does not violate other laws or regulations," Rutledge said in the non-binding opinion.
Rutledge's opinion comes two years after former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued an opinion that the Legislature didn't legalize open carry. Gun rights advocates have criticized that interpretation, with some groups staging events where participants march in public with their handguns openly displayed.
State Sen. Jon Woods, who was among the three who requested the opinion, said he generally agreed with Rutledge's opinion that open carry is legal. But he said he wanted to discuss with other legislators whether the law needs to be clarified further.
"I'm glad to now we know where the AG's office as of today, so we can move forward from there," the Republican from Springdale said.
Rutledge cautioned that there were several caveats to the open carry of handguns, noting that private property owners can still prohibit weapons. She said it also doesn't affect state law barring guns from certain areas, such as schools and the state Capitol grounds. She also warned that police are allowed under the law to ask why someone is openly carrying a handgun and that anyone carrying a concealed handgun must still have a license to do so.
Rutledge's opinion comes days after a judge found a Bald Knob man guilty of illegally carrying a weapon for openly wearing a handgun at a fast food restaurant.
Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley said he hadn't read Rutledge's opinion, but said he still doesn't believe the 2013 law legalized the open carry of handguns. Jegley said the contradictory opinions on the issue show the need for the Legislature to revisit the issue.
"If you've got divergent opinions from two different attorneys general, and that being the case, I think it's a call to action for the Legislature," Jegley said. "But I don't think it's anything that anyone needs to get panicked about."
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