Can Arkansas Cities Ban Bearing Arms On Public Streets And Sidewalks?

Some officials in Arkansas are worried that a new law allowing the open carrying of alcohol in newly created “entertainment districts” around the state doesn’t ban the legal carrying of guns at the same time. The Texarkana Gazette breathlessly reports that the law creates a potentially dangerous mixture of guns and booze, and politicians across the state are speaking out.

Texarkana City Attorney George Matteson referred to a state statute that prohibits cities, towns and counties from enacting any ordinance regulating “the ownership, transfer, transportation, carrying, or possession of firearms.”

Fayetteville is also in the process of establishing an entertainment district. In an email, Fayetteville Assistant City Attorney Blake Pennington said the city has no options in the matter.

“I don’t believe we would have any authority under state law to restrict either the open carry or concealed carry of firearms within an entertainment district. When the restrictions talk about ‘establishments’ that sell or serve alcohol we don’t believe that would extend beyond the selling establishment’s private property to public property outside. The state legislature has been clear that public property such as streets and sidewalks are intended to be free from such regulations,” Pennington said.

That makes sense. It’s hard to claim that public streets and sidewalks are part of the bars and restaurants serving and selling alcohol, after all.  Yet Kerri Lauck, the legal counsel for the Arkansas Municipal League, says “no-carry” signs may be able to be legally posted around the newly created entertainment districts.

Concealed carry licensees may not bring handguns into publicly owned buildings or facilities. Enhanced carry licensees may unless a sign prohibiting doing so is posted.

In the opinion Lauck cited, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge states that these rules apply to buildings, parks or locations owned by cities, municipalities or counties and paid for with public funds.

Because the law allows “the person or entity exercising control over” any place to post signs prohibiting carrying weapons, Rutledge concludes that cities, municipalities or counties may post such signs at the entryways of such buildings, parks or locations. The opinion does not specify, but “locations” could include public streets and sidewalks, as well as city-owned properties such as Texarkana’s Front Street Festival Plaza.

If any cities in Arkansas want to get sued, I suggest they try banning the lawful carrying of firearms on public streets and sidewalks. Even with an Attorney General’s opinion suggesting that the practice wouldn’t run afoul of the law, I suspect banning concealed carry on public right of ways isn’t going to play well in the courts, or sit well with voters.

If you’re going to interpret the law to mean entire blocks of a community can suddenly be declared a “gun-free zone”, then what’s to stop the city council in Little Rock or Fayetteville from posting “no guns allowed” signs at the city limits and turning the whole place into a victim disarmament zone?

If it makes city officials around Arkansas feel any better, I don’t think there’s going to be an issue with concealed carry holders getting blackout drunk and shooting up the streets of Mountain Home or Bentonville.  In Virginia, where I live, concealed carry holders can carry in restaurants that serve alcohol. And thanks to a quirk in our state law, if you open carry (which doesn’t require a license), you can actually drink in the restaurant too.  Now, while it may be legal, I’ve never seen anyone do it. That’s because the vast majority of gun owners know it can be a bad idea without having to be illegal.

My advice to city officials is to not freak out over this non-issue. And my advice if you’re gonna go drinking in one of these Arkansas entertainment districts: leave your gun at home. You can always ask your designated driver to be the designated carrier as well.