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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Rep. Bob Ballinger is shown in this file photo.

Legislative proposals on both sides of the gun-rights debate in Arkansas this year had varied results, with three becoming law, some struggling in committee and one resulting in a viral video viewed more than 2.5 million times around the world.

Republicans, despite their majority grip on the Arkansas Legislature, failed to bring to a vote a proposal to eliminate gun-free zones. The zones were created after a contentious battle in 2017 that resulted in a law allowing people with enhanced-carry permits to take concealed handguns onto college campuses and into public buildings, bars and churches.

In another effort, a "stand your ground" bill that would have eliminated the "duty to retreat" from the state's self-defense laws failed by a single vote in a Senate committee. The impassioned opposition to the proposal by state Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, later gained viral fame.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

Democrats also experienced their share of legislative defeats in their efforts to enact new gun-control policies by tapping into discontent over the 2017 enhanced-carry law.

A series of Democrat-backed bills would have implemented universal background checks, barred convicted domestic abusers from possessing guns and created a new type of judicial order to seize weapons from a person considered dangerous. Only one proposal -- the domestic abuser ban -- made it out of committee. It did not become law.

State Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, a staunch supporter of access to firearms who proposed the "stand your ground" measure, Senate Bill 484, said Republicans "were extremely successful" in passing legislation friendly to gun owners during this year's regular legislative session.

Ballinger pointed to Act 61, which cuts the cost of a concealed-carry handgun license from $100 to $50, and Acts 1051 and 495, which remove the state's prohibition on machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and gun silencers. Those weapons are legal for people with federal firearms licenses.

In a news conference after the Legislature's final adjournment Wednesday, several House Democrats pointed to Ballinger's SB484 as what they were happiest to have seen failed.

The gun-control advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America also mentioned SB484 in an email to supporters last week about "applauding the defeat of dangerous gun bills."

SB484 resembled "stand your ground" legislation supported by the National Rifle Association in other states.

The bill never gained the public support of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, and was opposed by a coalition of police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors who called the language unnecessary. It failed to get out of the eight-member Senate Judiciary Committee by a single vote, with Sen. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro, joining three Democrats against the bill.

It was during a late-evening hearing on SB484 that Flowers rebuked her colleagues for attempting to cut short the debate. When told by the committee chairman to stop cursing, her response -- "What the hell are you going to do? Shoot me?" -- garnered millions of views after a clip of the exchange was posted on social media.

Despite repeated attempts by Ballinger to amend the bill, it never came up for another vote in the committee.

Freshman Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, a former Northwest Arkansas chapter president of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, said the public's response to recent GOP-sponsored gun laws has weakened the influence of the National Rifle Association in the Arkansas Legislature.

Clowney specifically pointed to the NRA-backed enhanced-carry measure, Act 562 of 2017.

After approval of the 2017 law allowing concealed weapons on college campuses and in other public buildings, lawmakers scrambled to amend the law to exempt college sporting events and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The NRA's lobbyist warned lawmakers that their votes to walk back parts of the law would be counted on the group's scorecards.

Still, the sponsor of Act 562, then-Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, lost his re-election bid the next year to Denise Garner, a Democrat who campaigned against the law.

"I think for a very long time, for a lot of legislators, the NRA was seen as a force that could not be countered," Clowney said. "What we saw in 2017 was a legislator who introduced the most extreme piece of gun legislation that we've seen, a very NRA-friendly piece of legislation. He lost his seat, and he lost his seat by 10 points."

Collins, who now works for the Department of Finance and Administration, did not respond to requests for comment. He has previously stated that he does not attribute his re-election loss to his support for Act 562, but rather to the 2018 success nationwide of Democrats in suburban districts like the one he used to represent.

The NRA did not respond to requests for comment about its lobbying efforts during the 2019 session.

Ballinger said that though the NRA changed lobbyists working in Arkansas between the two sessions, there was no change in the level of lobbying done by the group.

He said the reduction of concealed-carry license fees was "a bill the NRA has been working on in Arkansas a long time." Other major changes, such as the enhanced-carry law, took several sessions to get passed. Ballinger said he would make another attempt at a "stand your ground" bill when the Legislature meets again in 2021.

Other Republicans, however, said they noticed less influence by the NRA in 2019.

During a floor speech in 2017 in which he explained his vote against exempting sports stadiums as a gun-free zone, Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, pointed to the influence of the NRA in making an "impossible choice." In an interview last week, Gazaway said it "seems like" he heard from the NRA less this session.

Rep. Dan Douglas of Bentonville, a Republican, said he has never been contacted by the NRA in his four terms in office, adding that other Republicans were starting to wane in their consideration of the group's ratings.

"In some legislators' opinion, they're getting too radical," said Douglas, who described himself as a gun owner who supports the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The NRA has not published grades or endorsements for Arkansas lawmakers or constitutional officers ahead of the 2020 elections.

SundayMonday on 04/29/2019

Print Headline: Few gun bills gained approval from Arkansas lawmakers in session


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Archived Comments

    April 29, 2019 at 7:04 a.m.

    Just what we need - more gun laws. There are plenty now, with national concealed-carry reciprocity being about the only gap. People control guns and their use. EVERY illegal use of a gun is already illegal. Control criminals, not guns or cars or knifes or baseball bats.

  • mowjoehardemansbcglobalnet
    April 29, 2019 at 7:54 a.m.

    What we need with every law currently on the books is strict enforcement .

  • limb
    April 29, 2019 at 7:58 a.m.

    Clowney is 100% correct on the Collin’s loss. His zealous insistence over law enforcement was his
    downfall. Other applicants were more qualified for his position at DFA but swamp got him there.

  • hah406
    April 29, 2019 at 8:26 a.m.

    There were two parts of that 2017 law that I absolutely did not agree with. They fixed one but not the other. Who thinks it is a good idea for a bunch of folks to be carrying guns into Razorback Stadium when it is packed with 70,000 fans. If something did happen, the place would turn into a circular firing squad.
    The other is carrying weapons into a bar. Guns and alcohol never mix well.

  • GeneralMac
    April 29, 2019 at 9:30 a.m.

    ( #2)........EXACTLY !

    EVERYONE, ignores the tweo ton elephant in the room.....convicted felons in possession of a handgun.

    Many times that is the FIRST charge dropped in a plea bargain sentencing.

    The reason MsFlowers (D-Pine Bluff) will never voice concern over its strict enforcement is it would upset too many of her thug constituents.

  • GeneralMac
    April 29, 2019 at 9:35 a.m.

    HAHA406...(4TH POST)

    However, every place that posts a 99 cents sign.."NO GUNS ALLOWED"..should be held liable $$$$$$$$$$$$ in lawsuts IF a shooting occurs on their property.

    Once you post that 99 cents sign, it should be the responsibility to ENSURE that NO GUNS enter.

    Posting a 99 cents sign should not absolve you of responsibilities to ENSURE that NO GUNS enter.

  • GeneralMac
    April 29, 2019 at 9:38 a.m.

    any politician with ( Pine Bluff) behind their name would be the LAST person to have a clue on preventing shootings.

  • abb
    April 29, 2019 at 9:40 a.m.

    ^^^^^^so says the limp wristed hoplophobe ^^^^^^^

  • abb
    April 29, 2019 at 9:42 a.m.

    There should be ONLY ONE (1) gun control law: The 2nd Amendment, which restricts government from infringing on citizens. Only one needed. Lock up the criminals and leave us alone.

  • hah406
    April 29, 2019 at 11:01 a.m.

    Mac, I don't disagree with you. It should be the business owner's responsibility. I am just saying that it should also be the law, no sign required, that you are not allowed to carry a gun into an establishment who's primary source of revenue is serving intoxicating beverages. Too many bad things happen when you mix alcohol and guns.