In February 1923, the Arkansas legislature passed Act 430, requiring all citizens to register their handguns with the county clerk. This was just one of a series of new laws being adopted by states across the Old South. In Arkansas specifically, the measure was supported by the emerging Ku Klux Klan, who had risen to prominence by exploiting the people’s fears of organized crime, Bolshevik revolutionaries, labor unions, and ethnic minorities.[1]

Anybody who wished to own a handgun had to appear before a board that included the county clerk, the sheriff, and the judge. Only someone deemed “of good moral character” would be granted a permit. The applicant’s name, age, race, address, and school district along with the pistol’s make, model, caliber, and serial number were recorded. Permits cost $1.00 and had to be renewed annually.

According to the A.B.A. Journal, “[t]his law was found so impracticable in enforcement” that it was repealed in 1925. At a meeting of the National Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, a commissioner from Arkansas explained that the act “proved a complete failure; that scarcely anybody registered his pistols and it was realized that it worked an injustice to the few who did so.”[2]

Handgun registration has not been required in Arkansas since.


The Lawrence County File

There were literally hundreds of people from Lawrence County who applied for a pistol permit between 1923 and 1925. The surviving documents are currently housed in NEARA. Most of them are from bigger towns, such as Walnut Ridge, Alicia, Ravenden, and Black Rock. An examination of these papers reveals a surprising diversity of American and foreign-made handguns, which seems to defy the concept of Arkansas as a backwater cut off from civilization. However, there are discrepancies. There were many people who completed applications and paid the $1.00 tax, but only a handful of corresponding permits have survived. Therefore, one must assume that every applicant was either approved or, as noted above, kept their handguns regardless of legal status.

There’s also evidence that the process was relaxed somewhat. Beginning in 1924, a number of citizens mailed their $1.00 fee to either the county clerk (in Powhatan or Walnut Ridge; the two towns had been sharing the duties of county seat since 1887) or an attorney with instructions on how to deposit it. There is no written record in these files concerning the “board” that was to have the final word on who was/was not of good moral character.

It is further interesting to note that the records themselves are not consistent. Some applications are printed on official forms and completed by hand, while others were typed on brown kraft paper.  


The Powhatan List

Since the town’s population had been in decline for some time, there are only twenty Powhatan applicants. Information that appears in quotation marks denotes something that has not been verified. These applications were filed between 1923-24.

They are as follows:





B.W. Field


Colt .38

Bo Castleberry


Colt R .45[3]

C.C.H. Collins


Colt R .45

Ed Hudson

Not recorded

Not recorded

H.P. East


S&W .38

“I.O. Park and J.N. Park”


 “Affa .22”

J.H. Warrick


S&W .38

J.L Phillys


Colt .38

J.R. Berry


Belgian .44-40[4]

Jeff Davis


H&R .32

“Joe S. Mize Sr.”


Luger 30[5]

“Joe Shef Mize Jr.”


Colt .32

Mrs. Ethel Porter


H&R .32

Mrs. Maude Saffer


Colt .44

O.M. Miller


H&R .32

R.L. Flippo


Colt U.S. Rev .45

S.J. Goodwin


“American Boy .22”[6]

T.H. Dickerson


Colt Auto .32

Tom Cravens


Iver Johnson .38

W.W. Smith

Not recorded

Paramount .32[7]




[1] “Ku Klux Klan after 1900.” Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

[2] Kopel, David B., “Background Checks for Firearms Sales and Loans: Law, History, and Policy” (April 8, 2016). Harvard Journal on Legislation, Vol. 53, 2016, pp. 303-367; U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-54.

[3] Most likely the M1917 revolver, which was produced by Colt, Smith and Wesson, and Remington. It chambered the same .45 ACP cartridge as the M1911 automatic pistol, which had been adopted as the American military’s standard sidearm. However, there was a shortage of these pistols during World War I, and the M1917 was used to supplement demand.

[4] The .44-40 was a cartridge introduced by the Winchester Company in 1873, meant to be used in both its lever-action rifles and revolvers. This “Belgian” pistol was likely a licensed copy.

[5] Luger pistols were commercially available in the United States during the interwar years, and ranked among the best handguns in the world. It features in John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel Of Mice and Men, although subsequent film adaptations changed it to a revolver. The “30” refers to the pistol’s caliber, .30 Luger, also known as 7.65x21mm Parabellum.   

[6] This name appears twice in the record. On the first application the pistol is listed as an “Allen Boy.” The second time it is called an “American Boy.” Remington made a .22 rifle called the American Boy Scout, but there is no evidence at the time of writing that there was ever a pistol named “American Boy.” The only other possibility is that the gun was made by Hopkins & Allen, who produced, among other things, .22 caliber revolvers. A serial number trace would be the only way to determine the exact weapon, and only if corresponding records survived.

[7] This pistol was a variant of the Ruby, a .32 caliber pistol used by the French as their main sidearm in World War I. It was licensed and produced by many Spanish firms, who exported it around the world under many different names.