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Some polling places will allow voters with concealed guns

by Scarlet Sims | February 29, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.

Voters can take their guns with them Tuesday at some polling places in Benton and Washington counties.

Guns were not allowed at polling places until state law changed last year, dropping "any polling place" from a list of where concealed handguns are prohibited under Arkansas Code 5-73-306.

By the numbers

There are 193,037 active concealed gun licenses in Arkansas. The number of permits in Washington County is 9,339, compared with 12,101 in Benton County.

Source: Arkansas State Police

Polling centers and guns

Officials at 20 polling centers in Washington and Benton counties have either said they plan to allow concealed weapons inside polls or have not asked for or planned to put up signs precluding it.

Washington County

Brentwood Community Building at 16940 Arkansas 71 in Winslow

Calvary Church at 1000 N. Gutensohn Road in Springdale

Christian Life Cathedral at 1258 E. Millsap Road in Fayetteville

Covenant Church at 4511 W. Wedington Drive in Fayetteville

Elmdale Baptist Church at 1700 W. Huntsville Road in Springdale

Hazel Valley Church at 16502 Hazel Valley in Fayetteville

Nob Hill Fire Department at 19375 Nob Hill Loop in Fayetteville

Oak Grove Baptist Church at 499 Oak Grove Road in Springdale

Ridgeview Baptist Church at 1850 E Huntsville Road in Fayetteville

Rheas Mill Community Building at 11871 N Wedington Blacktop Road in Lincoln

Sulphur City Baptist Church at 17472 E. Black Oak Road in Fayetteville

Wedington Volunteer Fire Department at 13496 Arkansas 16 in Fayetteville

Benton County

Gravette Civic Center at 401 Charlotte Street S.E

Prairie Creek Association at 14432 E. Arkansas 12 in Rogers

Total Life Community Center at 13710 S. Arkansas 59 in Siloam Springs

Heritage Missionary Baptist Church at 2309 S. Carl St. in Siloam Springs

New Life Christian Church at 103 Riordan Road in Bella Vista

Colonial Baptist Church at 1599 W. Olive St. in Rogers

Hickory Creek Fire Department a 15645 Arkansas 264 East in Lowell

Lakeview Baptist Church at 1351 E. Lowell Ave. in Cave Springs

Source: Benton and Washington counties’ election commissions

That change opened the door for churches, fire stations and community centers -- places that often volunteer to host polls -- to allow concealed handguns inside. Carriers must have a state permit to carry a concealed weapon.

The decision to allow concealed weapons inside polling centers is up to the organization allowing the community to use its facility, election officials said. Most of those facilities are private and are in rural areas.

"Arkansas is a pretty rural state in the scheme of things," said Bill Ackerman, Washington County Election Commission chairman. "Many of these families who now have a permit [to carry] -- they are knowledgeable when it comes to firearms. We don't anticipate any problem."

Legally, thousands of concealed guns could show up where people vote. Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler wrote in an email that there are 12,101 active concealed weapon licenses in Benton County and 9,339 in Washington County.

Benton and Washington counties are using voting centers as polling places for Tuesday's primaries. A voter can cast a ballot at any center in the county in which he resides. Benton County plans to open 44 polling centers. Washington County plans to have 49.

Eight centers in Benton County and 12 in Washington County either will allow concealed guns or have not told election commissioners about their plans, according to information provided by the counties' election commissions.

The centers that will allow guns are mostly in rural areas where concealed weapons are not uncommon, said Jennifer Price, Washington County election coordinator.

Patrick Hall of Gravette in Benton County said he doesn't expect problems at the Gravette Civic Center. The center is run by the city and is a public facility, Hall said.

"We live in a rural part of the state that is pretty gun-friendly," Hall said. "I don't see that there would be any cause for concern. Why should I have reason for concern?"

Messages left at 10 polling centers last week were not returned.

No one has complained about the issue, both counties' election officials said.

Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney for the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said voters should be worried because their government is allowing guns into a place where people feel safe to express their opinions and vote.

The nonprofit organization was founded by lawyers and seeks to "reduce the immense loss of life due to gun violence in this country," according to the group's website.

Allowing concealed weapons into voting centers could influence or scare off voters, Cutilletta said. The new law "slips guns under the radar" into places where people don't expect them to be, she said.

"We think it's generally a bad idea to have guns in a polling place," Cutilletta said. "The data shows that guns don't make us safer."

Voters will not be influenced, said Mike Sevak, Benton County election commissioner. It's an individual's right to carry a concealed gun while voting at centers that allow guns, he said.

Chris Powell, a spokesman for the Arkansas secretary of state's office, wrote in an email that there is no reason to think the election process will be disrupted if some centers allow concealed weapons.

"We always have concerns that elections are conducted safely and fairly," Powell said. "However, we do not have any indications that this is not the case, and we trust our law enforcement."

Officials said no communities or poll workers have requested extra patrols from police.

Benton County has not implemented specific training related to the concealed-handgun issue, but county election coordinator Kim Dennison said poll workers have received training that covered state laws.

Price said Washington County poll workers talked with a deputy specifically about the issue. No poll workers will carry concealed weapons Tuesday, Price said.

Metro on 02/29/2016

Print Headline: Some polling places will allow voters with concealed guns

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