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'Stand your ground' bill passes House committee on 2nd try

by John Moritz | February 23, 2021 at 4:14 p.m.
Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Clarksville, is shown in this photo.

A second attempt to get a controversial "stand your ground" bill out of the House Judiciary Committee succeeded Tuesday, after members of the committee beat back at attempt to amend the bill and appease gun owners.

Senate Bill 24, which would eliminate the duty to retreat from Arkansas' self-defense laws, stalled in the committee earlier this month after some Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill. The GOP opponents, however, cited opposition from a group of gun owners who said the bill did not go far enough in granting leeway to use their weapons in public spaces.

The House sponsor of SB24, state Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Clarksville, came back with an amendment to the bill Tuesday that was worked out with the gun owners. The amendment would have allowed someone with a gun who was illegally trespassing in an area where guns are prohibited to use their weapon in self defense, as long as they were not in the process of committing a more serious felony.

Pilkington's amendment, however, drew the opposition of the state's prosecutors who had previously been neutral toward SB24. Two Republicans on the committee then joined Democrats to vote against adopting the amendment.

After Pilkington went ahead with presenting the original version of the bill, Republicans on the committee voted to limit debate for a crowd of activists who had shown up to oppose SB24.

At a hearing on the bill earlier this month, many of those same activists had argued for hours that the proposal would cause needless violence, particularly against minorities. A review of "stand your ground" laws passed in surrounding states published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Monday found that five of the six of those states around Arkansas experienced increased rates of gun deaths after lawmakers passed "stand your ground."

In calling for a limited debate, state Rep. Marcus Richmond, R- Gravelly, point to the earlier hearing as said "I think we've heard just about everything that needs to be heard."

The bill passed the committee on 10-9 vote along party lines, and now heads to the House after previously passing the Senate.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has yet to say whether he will sign SB24 if lawmakers vote to send it to his desk.

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