Arkansas Senate OKs ‘Stand Your Ground’ Bill, Sends to House

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Senate on Tuesday passed legislation easing restrictions on the use of deadly force in self-defense, sending the measure to the House.

The majority Republican Senate voted 27-7 for the measure that would remove would the state’s duty to retreat. The bill now heads to to the majority-Republican House.

A similar measure failed before a Senate panel two years ago, but has moved more easily through the Legislature after groups that opposed it have said they’re neutral to the latest version. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has not said whether he supports the legislation, though he has previously expressed reservations about changing the state’s self-defense law.

At least 25 states have laws stating that there is no duty to retreat before using deadly force against an attacker, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Ohio’s GOP governor earlier this month signed legislation removing that state’s duty to retreat.

“I believe most citizens don’t want to kill somebody else and they want to de-escalate,” Republican Sen. Bob Ballinger, the sponsor of Arkansas’ legislation, said. “I believe that this bill won’t change that.”

Opponents of the proposal said the measure isn’t necessary, noting that the state’s law already allows someone to use deadly force without retreating in certain circumstances, and questioned the need to take it up in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. 

One lawmaker invoked Trayvon Martin, the Black 17-year-old shot and killed in Florida in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman ultimately didn’t use that state’s stand-your-ground law as defense, though the case sparked national debate about such measures. Zimmerman was later acquitted of charges related to the shooting.

“This state does not need this bill,” said Democratic Sen. Linda Chesterfield, who is Black. “Nobody has been killed because they had to think twice before they killed somebody. So I ask you think twice…before you allow that to become easier.”

The measure passed on mostly party lines. The only Republican to vote against the measure was Sen. Jim Hendren. Hendren, a nephew of the governor, is a sponsor of hate crimes legislation that has faced resistance in the Legislature and is also considering a run for governor. Only one Democrat, Sen. Larry Teague, voted for the measure.

Ballinger said the earliest he would likely bring the bill before the House Judiciary Committee is next week. He said he was confident the bill could get out of the committee, where Republicans narrowly hold the majority.

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