The piece of a stand your ground bill that Arkansas prosecutors insisted on adding is the very piece Gun Owners of Arkansas and some conservative lawmakers are pushing to take out. The impasse threatens to stall attempts to resuscitate the controversial bill that died in committee Tuesday.
Republican lawmakers met in private Wednesday afternoon, ostensibly to hash out what to do about language in Senate Bill 24 that requires someone to be “lawfully present” to be able to invoke a stand your ground defense. Stand your ground laws in other states make it legal for people to kill anyone they deem a threat, even if they could have safely walked away instead.
The Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association and other members of the state’s law enforcement community opposed a stand your ground bill during the 2019 legislative session. They agreed to remain neutral this go-round as long as sponsors made some changes, including a stipulation that the stand your ground law only applies if a person who uses deadly force in self-defense is “lawfully present.” The bill doesn’t include a definition of what “lawfully present” means.
But members of Gun Owners of Arkansas and Rep. Brandt Smith (R-Jonesboro) object to the requirement because they worry the law won’t protect people who kill in self-defense when they are unknowingly trespassing, or are carrying a gun in a place they’re not supposed to. Well-known Second Amendment activists Jan Morgan and Tim Loggains testified against SB 24 last month and Smith joined the majority by voting against the bill at the end of a House Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday, after dozens of people from across the political spectrum testified against it.
Gun Owners of Arkansas members accounted for only two of the two dozen people who testified against SB 24 on Tuesday. The other opponents worried about increased homicide rates, danger to disabled or homeless people whose behavior can be easily misconstrued as threatening, and stark racial disparities in who suffers and who benefits under this law.
Sponsors of the killed bill immediately started trying to bring it back to life. They took to social media Tuesday night with pledges to extract the bill from committee, a highly unusual maneuver that can revive a dead bill with a two-thirds vote on the House floor. But that didn’t happen Wednesday. Instead, sponsor Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R-Clarksdale) said he was going back to the drawing board to make changes to his bill before trying to put it back in play.
“People said they felt threatened to vote for it, people said they felt threatened to vote against it,” Pilkington said. He invited lawmakers who had concerns to meet him afterward. But the meeting that was initially planned for a room in the Capitol got moved to the Republican Party of Arkansas headquarters, and only Republican lawmakers got to go inside.
On his way in, Smith said he changed his mind and now supports SB 24 because sponsors seem willing to remove the language about having to be lawfully present to use a stand your ground defense. He also bristled at being lumped in with the gun safety advocates that also vocally opposed the bill.