Following a more than three-hour long debate, members of the House Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday (Feb. 2) against SB 24 – a proposal to end the duty to retreat when using physical or deadly force.
Despite the bill failing to get out of committee, its lead sponsor, Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, said he’s “confident it becomes law.”
The House co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Clarksville, said he plans to ask the full House to extract the bill out of committee as early as Wednesday, potentially bringing it to a vote on the House floor.
“It’s a shame in a state with a Republican supermajority that we were not able to get this bill out of committee. My hope is to extract the bill tomorrow and with our Republican supermajority we will pass ‘stand your ground’ in Arkansas.”
At least 25 people spoke against the proposal, including educators, criminal defense attorneys, doctors, and community organizers.
The bill would end the duty to retreat if the person using deadly force is lawfully present, had reasonable belief they were being threatened, they were not engaged in criminal or gang activity, and if the person is not a felon and not the initial aggressor.
Rev. Benny Johnson, a Little Rock community activist and founder of Arkansas Stop the Violence, told lawmakers he believes there’s a hidden agenda behind this bill.
“I smell a rat. In fact, I smell a big stinking rat. You know what a rat does? It stinks in your nostrils when it’s dead. And this bill, it stinks in my nostrils,” Johnson said.
Moms Demand Action volunteer Kate Fletcher, told committee members current law allows Arkansans to defend themselves using deadly force. “This bill is an attempt to solve a non-existing problem,” she said.
Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, asked the sponsors of the bill if there was a need to change current law.
“What will it do that current Arkansas law doesn’t and, in particular, who wants those changes made? – I’m thinking law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys,” Clowney asked.
Sen. Ballinger responded saying historically they have been opposed to this legislation.
“Right now, they’re empowered to make the choice, to decide whether to prosecute or not prosecute,” he said.
Ballinger explained this is why they spent time working with them on this bill.
“The reason they’re neutral on this bill is because they can work with it, it’s not going to hinder them from doing their job,” he said. Ballinger said they struck a sound balance to allow Arkansans to protect themselves.
Rep. Jamie Scott, D- North Little Rock, asked the sponsors if they would be willing to support a racial impact study to determine the potential impact on poor communities in Arkansas. Ballinger pointed to studies and statistics available. He and Pilkington agreed they would be open to a study, but would not be willing to stall the bill for it.
Scott added, “I’m just going to speak from my heart. This bill has the potential to bring out the worst of us in Arkansas. I think this bill offers opportunities for escalation instead of de-escalation. And if we pass this bill, I believe mothers in this state will be burying their children, their husbands and their loved ones – would you agree or disagree?”
Ballinger said while he believed Scott was sincere and would not use this as a political tool, he added, “We are not reinventing the wheel – it’s not something new – we’re doing what 36 other jurisdictions are doing in one form or another.”
Philander Smith College’s Chair of the Education Department, Dr. Charity Smith, testified on behalf of those likely to be impacted by the law.
“I come here not to stand my ground, but to stand in the gap for Arkansas students and citizens who are likely to lose their lives if you pass this bill,” Smith said.
Dr. Asad Khan, a psychiatrist from Jonesboro, highlighted the unintended consequences of the bill, including potential incidents when it comes to child-custody cases and substance abuse issues. He testified that methamphetamine and cocaine effects, such as paranoia, linger for much longer than the drug is present in a person’s system and can result in poor choices.
Beside the sponsors and an NRA representative, just one person – an Arkansas resident named Paul Calvert – spoke in favor of the bill.
Following the long debate, Pilkington closed on the bill and questioned some of the arguments against ‘stand your ground.’
“What I found fascinating was that somehow this bill, according to some, would take away our rights to defend ourselves and is actually bad for enhancing self-defense. And then on the other hand, I heard that it would expand it and create the wild west situation in Arkansas – how can those two things be simultaneously done at once? It’s simply not true. Unfortunately, consistently, during these testimonies, I heard false information,” Pilkington said.
Rep. Clowney appeared on Tuesday’s TB&P Daily legislative show to discuss the bill. The video can be viewed below.
Editor’s note: Marine Glisovic is KATV’s senior political reporter.