An effort to establish a "Stand Your Ground'' law in Arkansas passed its first hurdle on Wednesday.
By a vote of 5-2, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Senate Bill 24, which would add Arkansas to a list of states that already have such statutes.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, would remove the "duty to retreat" for someone who is under threat of being harmed.
Speaking in favor of the bill, Matt Herriman of the National Rifle Association called it a "very narrow concept" that protects those who choose to defend themselves as opposed to retreating.
"Besides this single element of being required to run, before you defend yourself, use of force justification in self-defense scenarios does not change. Force must still be proportional to the threat," Herriman said.
Ballinger attempted to pass a "Stand Your Ground" bill during the 2019 legislative session. That bill ultimately did not make it out of committee, with one Republican senator joining three Democrats to defeat the bill. With Republicans having a supermajority in the Senate, only one Democrat sits on the committee this session.
Speaking against the bill Wednesday, co-chair of the Senate Legislative Committee Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, called it a "solution that is grounded in fear" that could cause "unintended consequences."
"What doors are opened to look at somebody and make that belief that that person is threatening me? It becomes a solution that allows a private citizen to become the judge, the jury and the executioner of somebody’s behavior," Flowers said.
According to the proposed legislation, a person does not have a duty to retreat if they “are lawfully present at the location, are not engaged in criminal activity,” or are "not engaged in any activity in furtherance of a criminal gang, organization or enterprise."
Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravatte, asked Ballinger to define what "furtherance of a criminal gang, organization or enterprise" meant in context of the bill, but Ballinger would not explain, telling Hendren he could look up what that meant in the state statute.
According to the Arkansas Constitution, under the cited statute 5-74-103, "criminal gang, organization of enterprise," is defined as "any group of three or more individuals who commit a continuing series of two or more predicate criminal offenses that are undertaken in concert with each other."
What isn’t defined in that particular statute is the meaning of "furtherance" and what activities could be included under the definition of "furtherance."
Stand Your Ground laws, which have been enacted by 36 other states, have gained criticism since Florida was the first to pass such a law in 2005.
In a report published by RAND, a non-partisan research institution, there is supportive evidence that such laws may increase violent crime rates.
Though 10 people were slated to speak against the bill, the committee only heard from five before ultimately voting to advance the bill. Hendren joined Flowers in voting against it.
Of the 13 co-sponsors on the bill, four of them are on the Judiciary Committee themselves. With sponsor Ballinger also on the committee, the bill was almost guaranteed to make it through committee. The bill now advances to the full Senate.