HB2184 - Open Carry in Arkansas
Posted on March 10th, 2009

The firearm open carry law in Arkansas is among the most restrictive in the nation. Only five (5) other states are non-permissive. Typically considered the most firearm restrictive states in the country, California and Illinois are more open than Arkansas. In a situation that seems contradictory, many of the most restrictive states are in the south where you would think that the opposite would be the case. Why is this true?

I believe that the current restrictions have their roots in the dark and embarrassing history of racism in the south. The current laws have their origins in what were referred to as “Slave Codes”, later renamed “Black Codes”.

The “Slave Codes” did so on the basis that blacks were not citizens, and thus did not have the same rights as whites, including the right to keep and bear arms protected in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This view can shamefully be found all through the infamous 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford to uphold slavery.

The United States Congress overrode most portions of the Black Codes by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The legislative histories of both the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as The Special Report of the Anti-Slavery Conference of 1867, are full of denunciations of those particular statutes that denied blacks equal access to firearms. However, laws written to appear neutral by disarming through economic means or selective enforcement remained in effect.

After the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1878, most States turned to “facially neutral” business or transaction taxes on handgun purchases. However, the intention of these laws was not neutral. Arkansas, like other southern states, put laws on the books, but selectively enforced these laws based on racial decisions. Now those laws are being applied to all law-abiding citizens.

I considered not even running the bill because in some ways, our restrictive gun laws are a just reward for the injustice in their origins. Instead, I decided that it is more important to restore a right to those who have never enjoyed that right and to all people without regard to the ironic justice of the situation. Let’s let this be a valuable lesson and never forget: It is not possible to deny the liberty of one single individual without jeapardizing the liberty of all people. In this instance, we have undeniable proof.