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Conway lawyer, barred from carrying gun into Little Rock City Hall, will appeal to state Supreme Court

by John Lynch | September 15, 2021 at 6:58 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock City Hall is shown in this 2019 file photo.

A Conway lawyer barred from taking his gun into Little Rock City Hall said he is taking his case to the Arkansas Supreme Court after a lower-court ruling this week describing as vague the new law intended to allow specially licensed carriers to take weapons into spaces where they had formerly been forbidden, including municipal properties.

Chris Corbitt, a concealed-carry license-holder, sued the city along with Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and City Manager Bruce Moore -- the city's policymakers -- last month, saying they had violated his constitutional rights by not recognizing the law, Act 1024 of 2021, and barring him from taking his gun into City Hall.

Arkansas has two levels of concealed-carry licenses, basic and enhanced, based on training and live-fire testing. The new law is intended to allow enhanced concealed-carry permit-holders to take their guns into airports, the state Capitol, General Assembly meetings, state offices and public universities where the weapons had once been prohibited.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chip Welch declined Monday to force the city into immediate compliance, saying the law is not clearly written and that he would need to hold a trial to hear more evidence and arguments to decide whether Corbitt's rights had been violated.

"The court finds multiple ambiguities exist between Act 1024, and the multitude of other sections it seeks to amend or repeal. After torturous examination (literally trying to diagram the various statutes impacted) the purpose ... and the methods ... are unclear as is the precise definition of 'Enhanced Conceal Carry License,'" Welch wrote in his four-page decision.

Welch's ruling left Corbitt with two options: proceed to trial before Welch, or appeal to the higher court. Corbitt's lawyer, law professor Robert Steinbuch, said Tuesday that they would appeal.

City officials disputed the legality of Act 1024, with City Attorney Tom Carpenter stating in the city's response to the suit that it violates the constitution by discriminating between public-property owners like the city and private-property owners who can still bar gun-holders from their land.

"The case is really about the authorities of the state government to create a license that takes a fundamental right from a government property owner," Carpenter wrote. "Local governments have certain property rights as those enjoyed by private property owners. One of these rights includes the ability to exclude a person from entering onto municipal property."

The prohibition against private gun carriers is a safety regulation imposed by the city manager to protect municipal employees and visitors to city buildings, Carpenter stated.

"Act 1024 ... does not serve a public purpose. Hence ... the Arkansas General Assembly cannot simply take away the right to exclude certain armed persons from municipal property," he stated. "The City contends that its right, and responsibility, to provide a safe place for citizens or visitors to conduct business in City Hall, and for city employees to feel safe while working in City Hall, is not properly preempted by a state statute; the right of the City as a property owner to create this safety includes the right to exclude from its property those persons who wish to carry concealed weapons."

Print Headline: Lawyer barred from carrying gun into Little Rock City Hall will appeal to state Supreme Court

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