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Arkansas' stand-your-ground bill, explained

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette | January 5, 2021 at 11:47 a.m.
FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this file photo.

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Republicans in the Arkansas Legislature have introduced a "stand-your-ground" self-defense bill for consideration this session after past efforts failed.

(Unsure how a bill becomes a law in Arkansas? Read our guide to the General Assembly.)

What does “stand your ground" mean? Stand-your-ground laws, which exist in most Southern states, among others, make it legal for someone to use deadly force in self-defense without first attempting to retreat.

George Zimmerman was famously acquitted after he used Florida’s stand-your-ground law as a defense against a second-degree murder charge in his 2012 fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager.

What exactly is the Arkansas bill trying to do? Senate Bill 24 proposes eliminating language from the state's criminal codes requiring a person to retreat, if possible, before using deadly force in self-defense.

The bill was introduced by state Sen. Bob Ballinger, R- Berryville, and Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Clarksville, and co-sponsored by more than two dozen other GOP lawmakers.

What has happened in the past with Arkansas stand-your-ground legislation?

Sponsors of similar legislation in 2019 encountered opposition from gun-control groups, law enforcement officials and prosecutors.

Ultimately, the bill stalled in committee after a single Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee joined with the committee's three Democrats to vote against the measure.

However, that opposing Republican, state Sen. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro, lost his primary during the 2020 election cycle to a state representative who had the backing of the National Rifle Association.

Who supports the new legislation?

Many Republican lawmakers support the bill.

The NRA is a longtime supporter of such measures.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson never formally took a stance on the measure in 2019, but said at the time that he was "hesitant" to change the state's existing self-defense laws. A spokeswoman said Dec. 23 Hutchinson hadn’t yet read or taken a position on the new version.

The Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association changed from opposing the bill in 2019 to a position of neutrality after it was updated to exempt people who are in illegal possession of a weapon or participating in gang activity.

The Arkansas Sheriffs Association said it will meet today to discuss SB24 and other pending legislation.

Will the bill pass? We can’t really know yet.

House Minority Leader Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, said she believes most Democrats in the state Legislature will remain opposed to a repeal of the duty-to-retreat language. However, they do not have enough votes to block the legislation without getting some Republicans to join them.

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