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It is with fervent and perpetual hope that we Arkansans send our representatives to the state Capitol not to make matters worse in our state, but to improve upon what's been done before.

Maybe it's a little like our hope with the Razorbacks: We're pulling for them, but dang it if they can't be a frustrating lot.

What’s the point?

A resolution to declare Arkansas a constitutional carry state in which guns can be carried openly or concealed without a permit is not a resolution to anything.

Take the House Judiciary Committee, which endorsed the other day a resolution to declare Arkansas is a constitutional carry state in which people can carry handguns, concealed or not, without need for any additional permit.

In other words, it expresses the oft-heard mantra of some gun advocates that "the Second Amendment is the only permit I need."

Now, count us among the first to agree that Arkansas' laws about how one carries a handgun could use some serious clarification. In 2013, the Legislature passed Act 746 by Rep. Denny Altes for "making technical corrections concerning the possession of a handgun and other weapons in certain places." When lawmakers talk of technical corrections, it's rare for the legislation to fundamentally change what is and isn't legal in the state. Such major shifts typically go through significant debate, and Altes' bill, had it expressly declared Arkansas an open carry state for handguns, would have sparked a major debate.

Instead, its language was so vague lawmakers who since have said they oppose the concept of open carry nonetheless voted for Altes' bill. It was only in the aftermath of its passage that open carry advocates seized on its language as justification for declaring Arkansas an open carry state.

Legislation that would have explicitly legalized open carry in Arkansas failed to even get out of committee in 2013.

Now, in 2019, Rep. Brandt Smith of Jonesboro has proposed this nonbinding resolution to declare Arkansas a constitutional carry state.

Nonbinding. So exactly what does that do? It tries to sway people into believing Arkansas' legal standing for carrying a gun, concealed or openly, is far stronger than it is in the actual law. And it's the law that matters, not some resolution of intent.

The lack of clarity has created a confusing legal situation, not just for gun owners but for law enforcement. It's also created a climate in which the politicians can claim a pro-gun victory without really having hit their target. Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge have both said they believe Act 746 allows for handguns to be carried openly without any permit. Others with legal knowledge have argued the law does not allow for it.

If there is one thing we know about any law: If it's hard to agree what a law says or means, it's bad legislation that does little to help Arkansas.

If state law isn't strong enough, make it so. But that might involve more of a legislative fight, the outcome of which is less certain.

Arkansas has a system of permitting people to carry handguns in concealed fashion. It requires some classroom training and a small amount of range shooting, then pay the state some fees and, viola, you're licensed. Renewal is fairly easy, too.

If we are to accept that the constitutional carry resolution has any meaning or legal weight at all, why would Arkansas still need a legislated permitting system for concealed carry?

Yet again, advocates for gun rights are making things harder for everyone by making the situation murky. Their philosophy is vote first, ask questions later or not at all.

The resolution will create political space in which supportive lawmakers will go back to their home districts and declare "I protected your constitutional rights," but it will be true only in spirit, not in the letter of the law.

Gov. Hutchinson has remained noncommittal on the resolution, largely because he doesn't have to take a stand. It doesn't require his signature because it's not a law. Nonetheless, we do from time to time wish the good governor would put on his lawyer's cap and openly recognize when lawmakers are making a bigger mess of a subject than is good or necessary.

This is one of those times.

Commentary on 02/15/2019

Print Headline: False target

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