Arkansas House Committee Fails To Pass 'Stand Your Ground' Legislation

Feb 2, 2021

Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, presented SB24 to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Credit Arkansas House

An Arkansas House committee has rejected a bill that would have established a "Stand Your Ground" law in the state.

After over three hours of debating and listening to testimony, the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday rejected Senate Bill 24 by a voice vote. 

The bill, which the Senate passed in January, removes the "duty to retreat" requirement in confrontations, according to the legislation.  

Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Knoxville, was one of the House sponsors. Pilkington said he and Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, worked on the bill over the past two years. 

"We worked with the Arkansas Prosecutor’s Association, Sheriff’s Association and chief of police to create a bill that we feel adequately gives Arkansans the ability to defend themselves and at the same time takes into consideration law enforcement’s concerns," Pilkington said. 

When asked by Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, if law enforcement had contacted the legislature over a need for a "Stand Your Ground" bill, Ballinger said they had not. Currently, agencies such as the Arkansas Prosecutor’s Association as well as the Sheriff’s Association are neutral on the current bill. 

On Pilkington’s assertions that Arkansans want "Stand Your Ground" legislation, Clowney spoke on the results of the 2020 Arkansas poll, which showed a majority were against changing the state’s gun laws. 

"Over 50% of Arkansas voters want no change in our gun laws. So, I do think we need to be careful about making broad generalizations like that," Clowney said. 

According to the poll, 30% of Arkansans surveyed wanted stricter gun laws, while 17% wanted less strict. 

The bill has received criticism from both gun-rights activists as well as gun-control activists. When the bill was in the Senate Judiciary Committee, some gun-rights activists spoke against the bill and expressed concern over the phrase "lawfully present," and how that phrase could be interpreted differently depending on the situation or on who is in charge politically.

On Tuesday, Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, said that aspect of the bill gave him some "heartburn."

"I guess the thing that really concerns me is the 'lawfully present' piece because some places there are no signs. There’s no sticker on the door," Smith said.  

Rep. Jamie Scott, D-North Little Rock, spoke on her concerns over the legislation.

"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," Scott said. "If we pass this bill, I believe mothers in this state will be burying their children, their husbands and their loved ones."

When asked by Scott on whether he would consider conducting a study to determine the impact the bill would have on "poor communities and minorities specifically in Arkansas," Ballinger said he would not be in favor of creating the study before the bill is passed. 

"What I would be supportive of is working with you to create a system where this information could be tracked so that we can look at it. But I think what we’re going to find, Representative Scott, is that it’s not going to be much different than it is today. So it’s going to be hard to point to where the Stand Your Ground defense was implemented and it wasn’t just standard self-defense," Ballinger said. 

The committee spent over two hours hearing members of the public speak against the bill. Only one person out of the over 20 who spoke was in favor of the legislation. 

One of the people to speak against the bill was Camden Mayor Julian Lott, who is also the president of the Arkansas Black Mayors Association. If passed, he said the bill would have a "dangerously negative and profound impact."

"It ties law enforcements’ hands and deprives victims of remedies by providing basket immunity from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits to individuals who claim they were acting in self-defense," Lott said.

Another to speak against Senate Bill 24 was Solomon Burchfield of Fayetteville, who expressed concerns on how this bill would impact the state’s homeless population.

"When I think of this of this bill before you today, I think of the thousands of people in Arkansas… who I get to speak with every day, who tell me 'People already think I’m a danger,'" Burchfield said. "'They see how I dress. They know that I live on the street. Whether it’s a business owner or a civilian or whoever, they already have this stigma and are scared of me, can’t talk to me, don’t understand the behavior of some of my friends.'"

Burchfield said the bill would "embolden hotheads" and endanger Arkansans who are experiencing homelessness.

On Wednesday, after the bill failed to advance, Pilkington decided to not extract the bill from the House Judiciary Committee. Speaking to the full House, Pilkington said through he initially planned to make a motion of extraction for Senate Bill 24, he ultimately decided not to make the motion. 

Pilkington said he heard from lawmakers who said they felt the bill wasn’t handled with “an open manner, with an honest dialogue”

"That’s not the way we need to operate. And so with that and being faithful partners to one another and showing respect for all of us, what I am doing is having a meeting with legislators that have concerns about SB24 to meet with me...so that we can discuss the issues and concerns with this bill so that we can find a broader coalition to move forward," Pilkington said.

Pilkington asked his fellow lawmakers to meet with him on Wednesday after the House adjourned to talk about their concerns over the bill. According to Pilkington, the group Gun Owners of America have now come out in favor of the legislation. On Tuesday, a representative from the group Gun Owners of Arkansas, spoke against the legislation.