On July 6th, Senator Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, requested an official opinion about Arkansas's handgun carry law, 5-73-120, from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. The request consisted of two questions:
1. Under Arkansas Code 55-73-120(c)(4), what is the definition of the word "journey"?
2. Under Arkansas law, what does it mean to be "upon a journey"?
On Monday, August 1, Attorney General McDaniel declined to submit any opinion to clear up this matter.
The word “journey” is not defined by A.C.A. §5-73-120 or any other statute. I am of course unable to supply a controlling definition of a term that the General Assembly has not defined.
The citizens and law enforcement agencies of Arkansas have long wondered about the exact meaning of a journey, and Senator Files’ request was a perfect opportunity to clarify Arkansas’ gun carry laws. Why did Attorney General McDaniel reject the request? McDaniel uses a recent Attorney General opinion (his own) to bolster his decision. In that opinion from 2007, McDaniel wrote:
[t]his office has consistently taken the position that in the absence of a legislatively- or judicially-formulated definition, it is inappropriate for the Attorney General, being a member of the executive branch of government, to formulate a controlling definition.
Attorney General McDaniel conveniently ignored one phrase in that sentence – “or judicially-formulated definition”. However, McDaniel uses these same 'judicially-formulated definitions' in this week’s published opinion (reason for inclusion unknown). Attorney General McDaniel goes on to say:
In addition, the question whether a person is “upon a journey” may be a question of fact.
McDaniel also cites an Arkansas Supreme Court judgment to back his statement on ‘a question of fact’. That decision said:
Whether a person was on a journey may be a question of fact… Woodall testified that when he was arrested he was going from North Little Rock to his parents' house in Little Rock, hardly such a perilous journey as to necessitate his being armed with a pistol.
McDaniel is making the point that a judge or jury ultimately decides whether you are on a journey or not (Readers should ignore that Dustin McDaniel used a court declaration that further blurred the definition of a journey while deciding what a journey consists of). I cannot agree more with his point. However, law enforcement and/or a prosecutor make the decisions whether to arrest a citizen carrying on a journey, and they will now make these assessments without any guidance from the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in the state. Arkansas is in dire need of direction from the Attorney General’s office on this law, as more citizens are arming themselves every day.
It is obvious Dustin McDaniel wanted no part of this question, possibly due to political aspirations to be our next governor. Arkansas’s gun carry laws are some of the most vague and racist in the nation, and involving oneself in the gun rights battle could be potentially harmful to a political campaign. The people of Arkansas will continue to struggle with these archaic laws, but Attorney General McDaniel did provide one service to the people; he showed the state how terribly written these laws are.