Should attorneys have the right to bring a gun into an Arkansas courthouse? That is the question presently before the Arkansas Supreme Court in a lawsuit filed by Conway attorney Chris Corbitt.
Corbitt attempted to take his gun into a courthouse but was denied entry. His argument, which trial court Judge Herb Wright soundly rejected, was that the distinction “officers of the court” is intended to encompass attorneys in line with the spirit of the term as referenced in the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct. If that was the law, any attorney in Arkansas could carry a gun into court.
Judge Wright noted that Corbitt’s interpretation would “lead to a nonsensical result.”
Why does an attorney need to carry a gun into a courthouse? It is silly that such a question needs to be asked, but in today’s gun-crazed culture, we must do so.
While America has always had a strange relationship with guns, it was not until the National Rifle Association, in the second half of the 20th century, began an intense lobbying effort against any legislative proposal for the control of firearms at the local, state, and national level that America’s political and legal relationship with guns changed dramatically.
This was not the purpose for the NRA’s founding in 1871.
At its inception, the NRA endeavored to encourage a new generation of marksmen, either for hunting or recreational purposes. During the Civil War, the Union Army, it turned out, was a terrible shot. Working in concert with the government, the NRA helped advance independence and survival, particularly in rural areas, where hunting was a primary means of sustenance.
As crime rose during the era of Prohibition and into the 1960s, the NRA worked closely with the government to pass meaningful gun reform, including the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Gun Control Act of 1938, and in California the Mulford Act, which prohibited the open carry of firearms. The latter, passed in 1967, was signed into law by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan.
All were effective at reducing the types of guns used in crime.
Everything changed in the 1970s when Harlon Carter, a Texas attorney, staged the successful takeover of the NRA. A hard-liner, he is known for championing the phrase, “You don’t stop crime by attacking guns. You stop crime by stopping criminals.”
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court, in District of Columbia v. Heller, held that an individual has the right to keep a handgun in the home for self-defense. Justice Scalia, in his majority opinion, noted, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” One of the permissible restrictions Justice Scalia envisioned in Heller was forbidding firearms in government buildings.
Today in the United States, guns kill more children than cancer. But thanks to former Arkansas Rep. Jay Dickey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is prohibited from using research funds to advocate or promote gun control. This ignominious legislation is known as the Dickey Rule, and was conceived by the NRA after the CDC in 1993 published a report showing that gun ownership increased the risk of death in the home.
Feb. 1 marked the beginning of Gun Violence Week. America’s gun death rate is 13 times that of our peer nations. Every day in the wealthiest nation on Earth, 110 people are shot and killed and an additional 200 people survive. In January there were 52 mass shootings claiming the lives of 98 people. Another 205 people were injured but survived.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Crime Control Act, which banned assault weapons, including the AR-15, and large-capacity ammunition magazines. Mass shooting deaths declined to an average of 5.3 per year. After the ban expired, in 2004, mass shootings rose five times that rate annually, proving Harlon Carter and his acolytes wrong.
Mr. Corbitt’s effort to authorize attorneys to carry guns in courthouses is another in a long line of obsessive behavior regarding firearms and individual liberty. Weaponizing courthouses is a foolish endeavor riddled with unintended consequences.
The Arkansas attorney doesn’t ascend to the Bar to mimic Yosemite Sam. To be sure, attorneys respect the august nature of the profession and the courthouse as a sanctuary for civility and justice. The Arkansas Supreme Court would do right to embrace Justice Scalia’s dicta in Heller and send this case packing.
Blake Rutherford, an attorney, lives in Bentonville. He can be reached at Rutherford.Blake@gmail.com.