The House Judiciary Committee heard HB1408, The Open Carry Act, this morning. Before the bill was presented, it was amended heavily to allow open carry only outside of incorporated cities. Another amendment also provided a protection for carriers who accidentally had their gun exposed.
During questioning on the accidental exposure amendment, Rep. John Walker posed this hypothetical: what if someone is at a sporting event and they trip and fall, accidentally exposing their gun? This could easily incite a riot, according to Rep. Walker. “When people see guns, they panic!” he said. Nicholas Stehle of Arkansas Carry, testifying on behalf of the amendment, said, “That is a very hypothetical scenario because in Arkansas, outside of shooting sport events, concealed carry is not allowed at sporting events.” OK, glad we cleared that up.
Then the real fun began: as testimony was opened up, Arkansas State Police Director Stan Witt appeared to testify against the bill. After his comments, Rep. Bob Ballinger asked Mr. Witt why he was there testifying because it was his understanding that the ASP was not taking a position on this bill. “What changed?,” Rep. Ballinger asked. Mr. Witt said, “I can’t really tell you how long we were aware. I was just made aware of it this morning.” Asked when they decided to take a position, Witt said:
I…uh…I can’t tell you that. I just read the bill this morning and we had a discussion at our department.
In his testimony, Witt said the ASP opposes the bill due to safety concerns — not your safety, the safety of state policemen:
We oppose this bill because of officer safety reasons. Often time officers encounter suspects with guns and they have to make split second decisions. Sometimes..those seconds are critical. If a person is allowed to open carry, we feel like that would cause an officer to have to pause to wonder if that person is legally carrying or not and that those critical seconds could cost an officer his life.
Why is someone with a gun automatically a suspect? I thought we had agreed on that whole idea of “innocent until proven guilty” and the principle of “probable cause?” If there is probable cause to suspect someone carrying a gun, is it too much work for an officer to ask that person to provide their license?
You would think law enforcement officers would prefer to have citizens carrying openly so they know who is armed. Perhaps he’s been in the office too long…
More from Witt:
Another concern is if we respond to a situation where gunshots are involved and we get there and there’s several others with open carry, how long is it going to take us to find out who the bad guy is?
I tend to think that the gun bearers who have stuck around for the police to arrive are most likely law-abiding citizens — citizens who will willingly cooperate with police and provide their licenses when asked. At the end of the day, 2nd amendment advocates can’t assume that all of the consequences of open carry will be good, so let’s not be naive: there could be instances where there is a mix up between good guys and bad guys. As it stands, the bad guys currently have an advantage.
When asked if the amendment to make the bill only apply to rural areas changed his position, Mr. Witt quipped, “No sir, I don’t think there’s a difference.”
Following Mr. Witt, JR Hankins of the Highway Police division also spoke against the bill. This was by far his most memorable comment:
Most people that carry guns like this are good, honest people, but occasionally, you get that radical person out there that we also must deal with that thinks you’re infringing on their Second Amendment rights. So that can cause some tension between law enforcement and the people who actually wear these things.
Ah yes, the nefarious Arkansas citizen that values their constitutional rights — quite a dangerous specimen, no doubt. I guess instead of allowing them to exercise those rights, the state should just squash them. After all, we don’t want people thinking they’re entitled to liberty or anything.
Isn’t it amazing that the 44 states that allow open carry have not been eviscerated, ceasing to exist from all of the law-abiding citizens running around shooting people? Has Mr. Hankins never been to Missouri, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, or Oklahoma? All of these states allow open carry — is there blood running in their streets?
When asked about the importance of female joggers and others being able to carry for safety, Hankins said he carries while he jogs — because he’s a police officer — but he keeps his in his fanny pack. It would seem as though Mr. Hankins thinks he is allowed to security, but average Arkansans are not.
(Keep in mind: these Arkansas State Police administrators are presiding over a state that has a city now ranked as the 2nd most dangerous in the nation. Clearly, they are experts.)
Meanwhile, Red Lobster and several of their customers got robbed in Little Rock last night. Wouldn’t it have been swell if there had been an armed lawful citizen there? To echo the words of a member of the River Valley Gun Club who testified on behalf of the bill today: “We’re not your problem.”
The fundamental question of this debate is simple: do the police exist to protect our rights or to dictate our rights? Mr. Witt and Mr. Hankins appear to believe that the police have a better understanding of what our rights should be and are better able to protect us than we are able to protect ourselves. I believe this is a fundamental misunderstanding of our American ideals. Will the consequences of open carry always be good? No. In a free society, as in a draconian society, bad things happen. But do the benefits outweigh the cost? Is our freedom and right to self-defense worth the risk? Undoubtedly, the answer is ‘yes.’
Ultimately, the bill failed to clear committee, receiving only 9 ‘yea’ votes. Kudos to Rep. Ballinger and the bill’s sponsor Rep. Sue Scott for requesting a roll call vote. You can see the vote tally here.
Stay tuned to TheArkansasProject.com — I’ll be posting an interview with Arkansas Carry about today’s developments. In the meantime, you can check out the video of the entire hearing here on the House website.