Arkies, Get Your Guns 

All over the state, citizens are flocking to firing ranges to qualify to carry concealed weapons.

  • Sherri Walker

On a rural firing range south of Little Rock they stand, seven abreast, holstering cold steel. With the targets only six feet away, they seem absurd—like a firing squad at two paces—but they understand that this the way it will happen if it happens at all. They are afraid, and yet they are confident. And so on signal, they draw from their purses, belt holsters and what-have-you, and let loose a loud volley of lead.

One of them, a middle-aged woman on the end, can barely pull the trigger of the .38-caliber revolver she has just purchased, and is lucky to hit the target at all. She is getting some friendly help from the owner of John's Gun's just down the road. A few guns down, an experienced shooter with a large semi-automatic pumps all his rounds through a quarter-sized hole in dead center and holsters his weapon like he was sticking a hand in his pocket.

Most of them, sorry and great shots alike, will soon be licensed under a new law to conceal these weapons in their clothing and their cars. From there, its anyone's guess what will happen. Maybe the crime rate will go down. Or maybe it will go up, with people such as these killing each other over traffic disputes. So far, 3,000 Arkansans have applied for permits to carry concealed weapons, and with more than 300 new applications coming in every week, say the State Police, the number could go as high as 40,000.

Why, for God's sake? Arkansans are scared by crime — that's why. A study released last week revealed that Arkansas had the second-highest per capita felony crime rate in the country in 1993, behind the District of Columbia. And Little Rock, in recent years, has been named among America's three most violent cities. So as primitive as it sounds, out comes the old persuader to even up the score.

"The fact of the matter is that police cannot protect you—they never could," says John Wallis of North Little Rock, a vocal handgun advocate and member of the National Rifle Association who is applying for his own concealed weapon permit. "You are responsible for taking care of yourself, and this is one of he few ways to enable you do do that. I believe that our streets will be safer. It scares criminals to death when they don't know who's armed and who's not. It makes them a lot less likely to attack somebody."

Wallis, by the way, plans to pack a .380 semi-automatic or a .45—not both at the same time, mind you. Since the .380 is a lot lighter and half as thick, he will carry it in the warmer months when he's not wearing the kind of heavy clothing needed to conceal his .45. Under cover of winter, he will switch to the heavy artillery.

Another would-be concealer, Judy Barnett of Harrison, actually teaches the state-mandated course herself. Barnett, 41, says her students don't believe they are in much danger in Harrison, but mostly want the weapons for the occasional trips they must make to places like Little Rock and Pine Bluff.

Since the law allows concealers to qualify with three different weapons, on any given day Barnett will be holstering pistols ranging in caliber from .25 to .40.

"It's a terrible situation that you feel like you have to carry, but for criminals, that's their job," says Barnett. "Using Mace is alright, but most individuals don't think about the way the wind is blowing when they use it. A criminal will think about it."


The law pushed by Sen. Bill Walters of Greenwood and signed this year by Gov. Jim Guy Tucker had overwhelming support, passing the Senate 30-0 and the House 75-11. Even liberals like Sen. Vic Snyder of Little Rock approved.


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