A House committee met this afternoon to take up Sen. Bob Ballinger’s SB 24, the so-called stand your ground bill that amounts to a license to kill anyone you say you feel threatened by without duty to retreat safely.

A fringe group objected that the bill wasn’t loose enough. They wanted protection even if they drew down somewhere they didn’t have a legal right to be or legal right to be carrying a gun.  (A school, for example.)

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Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R-Clarksville), carrying the killer bill in the House, said over the weekend he was amenable to an amendment to change the requirement of lawful presence to use the defense and said “my party” would pass the bill with this easier-to-kill provision.

So far today, Pilkington has introduced on the House side a version of the legislation identical to Ballinger’s. Does he have an amendment in his pocket? Or is this a sign that the prosecutors intend to make good on their promise to oppose the legislation, rather than being neutral, as they agreed to do on Ballinger’s original bill?

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This is what the Prosecuting Attorneys Association told Bailey about the amendment to remove a requirement that a shooter is lawfully present and whether it would protect people in places where guns were prohibited:

  1. Yes, we will oppose the bill if amended, as has been rumored. Without an amendment , we will remain neutral to SB24.

  2. That is our understanding of the amendment.

  3. Yes, APAA will testify regarding a proposed amendment. If there is no amendment, we likely will not testify.

  4. As a basic principle, people should obey the law. If members of the General Assembly believe that another law needs to changed to make certain activity or behavior  lawful, then a bill should be filed and debated.

  5. The 28 Elected Prosecuting Attorneys in Arkansas are united on this issue.

UPDATE:

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REP. AARON PILKINGTON: His claim of a clarifying amendment was challenged.

UPDATE: Pilkington introduced the amendment today in committee to clarify what “lawfully present” means. He immediately drew questions from opponents who said the language wasn’t clear. He was asked why the bill would protect unintentional trespassers and people who took guns to places where they aren’t permitted.

He acknowledged prosecutors were not in favor of the amendment. Rep. Vivian Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) wondered whether the bill would protect the use of a gun by a misdemeanor stalker or domestic abusers. Pilkington contended they couldn’t use the stand your ground defense. But Flowers, a gun owner and concealed carry permit holder, insisted the amendment didn’t say that. Moreover, she said the average person wouldn’t understand the bill. Pilkington said it “doesn’t make sense” that a stalker could avoid prosecution. Flowers didn’t accept his answer. She said the law puts women who attempt to protect themselves in peril, “especially if she dies and she’s not there to tell her story.”

Those committing a “serious felony,” and several were listed as examples (arson, rape, burglary or theft), couldn’t use the defense. Opponents said there was no definition of the term. And it was noted that several felonies, such as kidnapping were not listed. Pilkington said the courts could make that determination. Rep. Ashley Hudson (D-Little Rock), a lawyer, said Pilkington’s amendment doesn’t clarify but complicates the issue given rules of statutory construction that courts apply.

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Pilkington conceded that someone “unintentionally” trespassing could use deadly force if they felt threatened by a property owner objecting to their presence. He again contended a misdemeanor stalker couldn’t use a stand your ground defense, but he didn’t explain legally how that could be under the hypotheticals discussed.

The Gun Owners of Arkansas, which opposed the bill originally, supported the bill today. A leading advocate has been Tim Loggains, the former fiance of the woman convicted of killing former Sen. Linda Collins. Dallas Green of the Gun Owners said the definition of “lawfully present” will protect the right of self-defense and protect equally those with and without concealed carry permits.

Nathan Smith of Bentonville, president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association, opposed the amendment. The “lawfully present” requirement, as originally written, insured the law would be used by law-abiding people. The amendment, he said, rather than clarifying the law created a loophole to restrictions on where guns may be taken. If those restrictions must be changed, he said, “have that debate, don’t use this bill as a vehicle.” He said the bill would inevitably be interpreted differently across the state. He said the language is vague, particularly with the reference to “serious felonies.”

Smith said, in response to a question, that someone with a gun in a courtroom, where guns are normally prohibited, could argue that they were lawfully present if not committing one of the enumerated felonies.

In response to another question, Smith said interpretation would be difficult under the amendment if a gun was used by someone committing misdemeanor stalking.

The amendment was initially defeated on a voice vote. It was defeated on the roll call 11-7. Two Republicans, Reps. Stan Berry and Keith Slape, joined nine Democrats in voting against the amendment. Chair Carol Dalby and House Speaker Matt Shepherd, both Republicans, did not vote.

That defeat moved the discussion to the original bill, which failed once previously in the same committee. Rep. Marcus Richmond moved to limit debate to seven minutes a side, with 15 people signed up to speak against the bill.

Opponents made the familiar arguments that such laws increase the number of homicides and are applied in racially discriminatory ways. Also an opponent noted the absence of evidence that the existing self-defense protection isn’t sufficient.

Pilkington claimed to have found a 1998 case in which someone who claimed self-defense in not retreating had “the book thrown at him.” He gave no names.

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He said the bill was not perfect, but a good bill. “Why is something so small so hard?” he said. He claimed it would decrease the violent crime rate.

The bill passed on a 10-9 party line roll call vote, with Republicans Slape, Berry and Dalby joining the ayes. Shepherd did not vote.

A key vote was that of Rep. Brandt Smith (R-Jonesboro) who voted against the bill in its first vote because of the opposition from Gun Owners of America. That was key to its defeat. Though the Gun Owners group wanted an even looser bill, the prosecutors’ opposition to the amendment seems to have given the Republican majority the cover it needed to support the bill. It is hardly cured.