A bill that would establish a "Stand Your Ground" law in Arkansas has advanced to the House after members of the House Judiciary Committee narrowly voted to approve it on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 24, which the same House committee failed to advance by a voice vote in early February, would remove the "duty to retreat" requirement in confrontations.
The House voted 10-9 to advance the bill, with chair of the committee Rep. Carol Dalby, R-Texarkana, voting to break the tie.
Earlier in the meeting, the committee voted 7-11 not to add an amendment to the bill, brought by its sponsor, Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Knoxville. The amendment would have removed the term "lawfully present" from the bill. According to Pilkington, the National Rifle Association was neutral on the amendment.
Nathan Smith, President of the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association, spoke against the amendment, saying it makes it less clear from a legal standpoint whether someone can stand their ground.
"We supported the inclusion of the lawfully present language in the initial bill because we believe Stand Your Ground, if it’s passed, should only apply to law-abiding Arkansans," Smith said.
After the amendment failed, the committee heard from members of the public on the bill itself. Though 15 people were signed up to speak against the legislation, only seven actually spoke as debate was limited to seven minutes per side. No one spoke on the bill’s behalf.
One person who was able to speak against the legislation was Dr. Charity Smith of Philander Smith College.
"We teach our students to in college when they are in education programs to teach young kids to retreat from a fight so that no one is hurt. If we can keep the standard to retreat, we can save lives. I urge you to vote against this bill," Smith said.
In closing for his bill, Pilkington said the legislation wasn’t perfect, but warned "not to let perfect be the enemy of the good."
"This expands our ability to defend ourselves in situations in which we have a right to stand our ground. Like you heard last time I presented here, we’re moving the needle very very small amounts. We’re just basically putting into practice what we’re already doing," Pilkington said.
If the bill passes the House, it then goes to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, where if signed, it becomes law.