Arkansas legislator wants to pack heat at state Capitol

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Despite metal detectors and armed guards at the doors to the Capitol and leading to galleries overlooking the Arkansas House, a state lawmaker says he would feel safer if he were allowed to pack his own heat.

Republican Rep. Mickey Gates is proposing that lawmakers licensed to carry a concealed handgun be allowed to bring their weapons into the Arkansas Capitol and other publicly owned facilities throughout the state. Prisons would be excluded.

“I have a key to the Capitol and I can go in whenever I want. You can’t always be sure that there will be security,” Gates said Friday.

He said that because he cannot bring a weapon into the Capitol or even leave it in his car, he’s not armed when he travels from his Hot Springs home to Little Rock.

“I feel safer when it’s on me rather than in the car,” Gates said, noting that someone could break into the vehicle and steal the firearm.

The decisions that lawmakers make can be emotionally charged, and if guards aren’t around there could be trouble, he said.

“If you have a right to life, you have a right to protect life,” Gates said.

Sen. Keith Ingram of West Memphis, a Democrat, said he’s opposed to Gates’ measure. Ingram said he doesn’t know of any other lawmakers who are interested in being able to carry a handgun — though he has heard of some fearing “someone with a gun getting in.”

Arkansas legislators are not subject to searches when they enter the Capitol, though most other people are. Gates said some lawmakers — including ones who have worked in law enforcement — have received exemptions to pack heat in the building, though he doesn’t know which legislators.

Security officials at the Oklahoma Capitol last year had grumbled about a growing trend among conservative legislators who were declining to submit to the weapons screening that’s been required at government buildings for several years, and breezing through checkpoints. An Associated Press reporter watched six GOP Oklahoma House members set off alarms at that state’s Capitol as they walked through metal detectors with their briefcases and satchels.

In New Hampshire in January, Republican Rep. Carolyn Halstead dropped her loaded gun on the floor near some children. It didn’t fire and nobody was hurt. Later that month in Kansas, Republican Rep. Willie Dove acknowledged he inadvertently left a loaded gun in a public committee room where a secretary found it a few minutes later.

The Arkansas proposal is among several guns rights measures filed in the Legislature since Republicans expanded their majorities in both chambers in the November election. A proposal to allow concealed handguns at college campuses has stalled after facing resistance from the National Rifle Association over age and training requirements. Other measures include a bill that would eliminate the need for a license to carry a concealed handgun.