A Conway lawyer’s claim that attorneys are entitled to take their guns into Arkansas courthouses has been rebuffed by a Pulaski County circuit judge who described the lawyer’s reasoning as “nonsensical.”
The lawyer, Chris Corbitt, said Friday he is appealing the ruling. Corbitt, 51, sued Barry Hyde, county judge of Pulaski County, and Sheriff Eric Higgins in January 2020 about a week after he was barred from entering the Pulaski County district court on West Roosevelt Road with his gun by a sheriff’s deputy.
Corbitt’s suit states that Act 1087 of 2017, now Act 5-73-122, modified the law to allow lawyers to have their handguns with them in any courtroom. The law does not specifically say attorneys can have guns but was modified to add “officer of the court” among in-court weapon-holders, and attorneys have been recognized as officers of the court by the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct and the US Supreme Court, according to Corbitt.
Corbitt asked that the judge recognize his civil rights, under state and federal constitutions, had been violated and called for the Pulaski County prohibition on firearms in the court to be struck down.
Circuit Judge Herb Wright rejected Corbitt’s arguments in a four-page ruling Thursday, stating that if the law was interpreted the way Corbitt wants, “it would lead to a nonsensical result.” Reading the law Corbitt’s way would strip the presiding judge of the authority to regulate who can enter the courtroom, the judge stated. Wright said the only way to read the law that makes constitutional sense is the way that the county’s lawyers advise.
“To read the statute as plaintiff suggests would require a reading that the legislature has superior authority to a court to conduct its proceedings, which is a violation of the separation-of-powers doctrine,” Wright wrote. “As defendants point out, the court must avoid an unconstitutional reading of a statute. Reading it as defendants suggest is the only such possible constitutional reading.”
Corbitt has mounted a series of legal tests involving taking firearms into public places.
As an enhanced concealed carry permit-holder, Corbitt is in the midst of suing the Arkansas Game and Gish Commission after he was turned away from one of its firing buildings last August, which he states is a violation of Arkansas Code 5-73-322 . Enacted in 2017, the law allows enhanced-carry permit holders to have their guns on publicly owned property, specifically Game and Fish land, he states.
Corbitt’s suit against Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and City Manager Bruce Moore over whether enhanced carry licenses can bring firearms into City Hall is on appeal to the state Supreme Court. Corbitt was refused entry with his gun in August. A lower court ruled against him in September, finding the law — Act 1024 of 2021 — too vague to be enforceable.
Arkansas has two levels of concealed-carry licenses, basic and enhanced, based on training and live-fire testing. The new law is intended to allow enhanced concealed-carry permit-holders to take their guns into airports, the state Capitol, General Assembly meetings, state offices and public universities where the weapons had once been prohibited.