Is you is or is you ain’t my open carry state?

In my article on open carry, I mentioned the confusion we residents of Arkansas have over whether open carry is legal in our state or not.  I also said that I was unwilling to be a test case on that question.  But others have offered themselves up, particularly one Richard Chambless, a resident of Bald Knob who carried his handgun openly in a holster and got arrested and ultimately found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor for doing so.

But what a difference a few days can make.  On the 28th of August 2015, our state attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, issued an opinion that indeed, Act 746 of 2013 does allow people to carry a handgun openly and without benefit of license, so long as they have no unlawful intention for carrying.  I’d like to have her sit in on a few sessions of my composition class, since the opinion drifts around the topic, but then, the law itself could use editing for simplicity and clarity.

So where does this leave us, other than needing to read Strunk and White again?  The latest report says Chambless intends to appeal his conviction, and the chief of police in Bald Knob, Erek Balentine, wants local businesses to put up signs prohibiting guns on their premises on the belief that carrying a gun into a store may alarm other customers.  Anyone carrying a concealed firearm must still have a license to be on the good side of the law.

And so it goes.  The Roman philosopher and lawyer Cicero quotes the saying, the more laws, the less justice, in his book, On Duties, and this concept is instructive.

Rules, regulations, and laws possess the arithmetical powers of addition and multiplication.  Or at least their makers grant them those abilities.  Cicero’s argument was that unscrupulous agents of government may use poorly written laws to achieve their own bad ends.  He cites as an example a general who agreed to a truce with an enemy for thirty days, then sent his soldiers out to ravage the land at night on the grounds that the period between sunset and sunrise hadn’t been specified.  Another example of twisting the text of a law is the joke about the man who murders his parents, then begs the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.

We can draw from this the idea a couple of points.  On principle, laws ought to be written so that ordinary people can understand them.  If the legislature intends to permit open carry without a license, then say so:

The open carry of weapons without a license is allowed for all lawful purposes, including self-defense.

But the qualifications for serving in the Arkansas House or Senate do not include demonstrating the ability to write clearly, and thus it’s left to us voters to decide the quality of writing we will tolerate from our elected representatives.

And that’s the broad lesson here.  When we accept or even demand more laws—greater in number and in scope—we’re at fault for the lessening of justice.  It’s up to us to send our own clear messages to the people we elect that they serve us.  They hold power on our behalf.  The first duty of all in public office is to defend the exercise of rights, even of those that aren’t always popular.  The next duty after that is to recognize that not everything has to be controlled by a law.

But I’ve been called an idealist before, and Richard Chambless still awaits justice.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of