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Arkansas 'stand your ground' bill set to become law

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Arkansas lawmakers passed the controversial ‘stand your ground’ bill 72-23 on the House floor Wednesday.

The Republican-led measure, SB24, would allow an armed person to use deadly force if they believe they are in imminent danger. Currently, Arkansas law prohibits a person from using deadly force if they can safely retreat.

The ‘stand your ground’ law would end Arkansas’ duty to retreat if the person using deadly force is not a felon, is lawfully present, has a reasonable belief they are being threatened, is not engaged in criminal activity and if the person is not the initial aggressor.

Republicans hold a 78-22 margin over Democrats in the Arkansas House. Only 51 votes were needed for passage.

Rep. Reginald Murdock, D- Marianna, acknowledged on Wednesday that the cards were stacked against Democrats who have spoken out against 'stand your ground laws' in the Arkansas House.

"We know what this is, we just wasting time," Murdock said during debate. "But let's not be a body that gives fuel to such a fire that could create more problems for our family, friends ... let's not do that ... let's be the difference."

Opponents of the bill have argued that ‘stand your ground’ laws harm minority groups and have taken a violent toll on black communities. Rep. Fred Allen, D-Little Rock, was the first to speak against the bill on the House floor Wednesday. He said stand your ground laws have had deadly effects across the country by increasing homicides and encouraging legal, racial bias.

"This bill is designed to make headlines, not headway," Allen said. "This bill is designed to take lives, not save lives."

Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Knoxville, presented the bill to the House on Wednesday. In his closing remarks, he said the bill is designed to protect Arkansans who made a "snap decision" to protect themselves.

"In these situations, you don't always have time to decide if you could safely retreat or not," Pilkington said. "That's why I believe we need the 'stand your ground' law."

Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Berryville, tried and failed to pass a similar bill in 2019. A video of Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, arguing against the 2019 bill went viral and was largely shared by gun control activists and politicians.

Earlier this month, members of the House Judiciary Committee voted against SB24. But it passed out of the committee in a 10-9 voice-vote on Tuesday.

House rules allow for one less vote for a majority if the House speaker serves on the committee and isn’t present to vote. Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, was not present.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson now has five days, excluding Sunday, to sign the bill. He has not said if he supports the bill or not. But in 2019, he said the state's current self-defense law is "strong" and that he was hesitant to change it.

The Arkansas chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action called on Hutchinson Wednesday afternoon to veto the bill.

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“Arkansans from all walks of life agree: ‘Stand Your Ground’ will only add confusion to our self-defense laws and increase gun violence in our state,” Amy Gillespie, a volunteer with the Arkansas chapter of Moms Demand Action, said. “Governor Hutchinson should veto this deadly bill.”

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