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OPINION | AMANDA CONRAD: Law not needed

State’s self-defense laws work by AMANDA CONRAD SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | January 29, 2021 at 2:50 a.m.

When I left our beautiful state to serve in the Air Force, I traveled to six different countries, breaking bread with countless people who looked -- and thought -- differently than me. We cherished our differences, learned from each other, and grew as human beings. And even 20 years after my service ended, I still look to that service as my foundation in life.

But now, some of our lawmakers want to pass SB24, a "stand your ground" law that would upend Arkansas' self-defense law, embolden vigilantes and extremists to shoot first and ask questions later, weaken gun laws, and make Arkansas less safe, particularly for people of color. That goes against everything my military service taught me -- and everything our state should stand for.

First of all, let's be clear: Arkansas' self-defense laws work. We already have strong laws that allow people to protect themselves in dangerous situations. Not a single proponent of this legislation -- not Sen. Bob Ballinger nor the NRA that's trying to force this law on our state -- can point to a single case where our self-defense laws didn't work.

No, what this law would do is enable people to shoot first -- shoot to kill -- even if it's unnecessary. That isn't self-defense, it's a crime.

So it's no surprise that roughly three out of every five people in Florida claiming "stand your ground" had prior arrests before killing someone and invoking the law, with about a third of these defendants having previously been arrested for serious crimes like assault and robbery. We would be encouraging this at a time when extremists are taking advantage of lax gun laws to intimidate people.

Research shows that these laws are associated with an increase in homicide rates, translating to more than 150 additional gun deaths each month in the U.S. They're also associated with an increase in firearm injuries, resulting in emergency room visits and hospitalizations, according to the Journal of the American College of Surgeons and the National Bureau of Economic Research. It's astounding that now of all times, when our hospitals are stretched thinnest dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, lawmakers and the NRA are trying to force a bill that would further burden already-taxed doctors and nurses.

This isn't just some technical "fix," as proponents would like you to believe. Even though our self-defense laws don't need fixing, "stand your ground" would encourage people to use violence when they could easily walk away. This bill would result in more people in emergency rooms and morgues, more families whose lives will never be the same, who'll always have an empty seat at the table and whose Christmases and birthdays will forever be tinged with absence.

In Florida, its similar law has been associated with a 32% increase in firearm homicide rates -- and it had the most negative impact on neighborhoods that initially had the lowest homicide rates before the law was enacted. Beyond that, this bill puts Black people and other people of color in particular danger. When white shooters kill Black victims in "stand your ground" states, the resulting homicides are deemed justifiable far more frequently than when the victim is white and the shooter Black.

That's not the Arkansas I want to live in -- and certainly not the Arkansas I was so proud to protect as a member of the U.S. Air Force.

In the military, we learned to cherish others, to embrace our differences and learn from each other. We learned how valuable every single life is, and we had rules of engagement that further enforced that. But this "stand your ground" bill would create a "shoot first, ask questions later" culture in Arkansas that goes against everything I learned in the military and would lead to more gun deaths, disproportionately impacting communities of color.

I urge our lawmakers to reject this deadly bill, and if you agree, text ARKANSAS to 64433.

--–––––v–––––--

Amanda Conrad of Bentonville is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

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