Senate Republicans advanced legislation Wednesday that would remove the duty to retreat from Arkansas' self-defense laws, clearing a hurdle for the proposal that has long been a goal of gun-rights proponents and the National Rifle Association.
The so-called "stand your ground" legislation, Senate Bill 24 by state Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, was passed by the Senate Judiciary committee by a 5-2 vote after more than two hours of debate. Similar legislation sponsored by Ballinger in 2019 failed to pass the committee, after a single Republican joined Democrats to block the bill.
Since then, however, Ballinger and other bill sponsors worked with the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association -- past opponents of the proposal -- to ensure that they would remain neutral. The judiciary committee also gained an additional Republican member, virtually ensuring the bill would head to the floor.
"You're going to hear that this is a license to kill, to shoot first and ask questions later," Ballinger said Wednesday. "That isn't the way it is in California, Illinois or the 34 other jurisdictions, other states, that have it."
Opponents of the bill, including pro-gun control groups, pointed to studies showing that similar laws in other states preceded increases in gun homicides, and that the "stand your ground" defenses are disproportionately successful in cases where the victim is black. Supporters of the bill argued that those statistics are flawed.
The two senators who voted against the measure, Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, and Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, argued that Arkansas' current laws were sufficient to protect people who need to use deadly force in self-defense.
"I don't think it's a better policy than what we have in our law now," Flowers said. "It seems that we are encouraging people not to avoid confrontations when it can successfully done."
Later Wednesday, Ballinger attempted to suspend the Senate rules to have the bill fast-tracked to the Senate floor by Thursday, so that lawmakers "won't have all weekend to deal with emails and telephone calls" on the bill.
The Senate voted 20-8 in favor of Ballinger's motion, but did not reach the two-thirds majority needed to suspend the rules and fast-track the bill.
Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.
This story has been updated. It was originally published at 12:45 p.m.