JONESBORO — With the backing of several state senators representing Northeast Arkansas, the latest iteration of Stand Your Ground is being reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee.
A huge component of the bill sponsored by Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, is striking out a person’s duty to retreat, even if they can do so “in complete safety.”
If someone is “lawfully present at the location,” believes he is in imminent danger, not the aggressor and not committing a crime, the proposed law allows him to stand his ground.
Republican Sen. Blake Johnson of Corning co-sponsored Senate Bill 24 because it could save lives, he said.
“I want the individual to feel comfortable in their defense outside their home and curtilage … without second guessing themselves,” Johnson said. “That second guess could cost you your life or the people you love who are with you.”
The bill passed through the Senate with a 27-7 majority. Sen. Ronald Caldwell, R-Wynne, didn’t vote.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, believes it will pass through the House by a similar margin.
“The language was pretty clear on what it did and I agreed with that so I voted for it,” he said. “If you’re there legally, you have the right to defend yourself.”
Craighead County NAACP branch president Emma Agnew said current self-defense law is sufficient and the new bill would “increase homicides.”
“It’s a bad law,” she said. “The crime rates go down because people aren’t convicted under stand your ground law so you can shoot somebody just for feeling threatened. … What we’re trying to do is stop it in the House.”
The Gun Owners of Arkansas also expressed its disdain online for the bill because of its language.
“GO-AR isn’t aware of any cases where our current law has been an issue by an individual failing to retreat,” a Facebook post read. “Under the wording of SB 24 and using the term ‘lawful presence’ would subject citizens to ... a disaster in the making. Let’s pray the House of Representatives see these problems and stand with the people and put aside their worry of being downgraded by the NRA (National Rifle Association) that opponents use against them.”
Jonesboro Police Chief Rick Elliott said he can “certainly see both sides of the story.”
“If there’s a situation where they’re feeling threatened with physical, bodily harm or injury to themselves or their family, they’re looking for the right to defend themselves,” Elliott said. “I also understand the concern when folks say, ‘With this bill, people would just start shooting for no reason.’”
In any instance where deadly force is used or threatened to be used, Elliott said his department would investigate it. In comparison to current law, he said not much has changed.
“You’ve always had the right to defend yourself. There’s nothing that says you have to stand any place and be victimized,” he said. “The retreat portion is more clarified. … The prosecuting attorney is going to decide whether to file criminal charges against that person, as in the past.”
The Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police is “fully aware of the legislation,” but Elliott said he’s unaware of the organization’s stance on SB 24. Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, said law enforcement as a collective “did not oppose this bill.”
“It gives more personal protection to folks that are completely innocent,” Wallace said.