Senate committee votes down new self-defense bill
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — After a heated and contentious debate, Arkansas’ Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday against a bill which would have loosened regulations for the use of deadly force in self-defense.
The panel voted 4-3 against the legislation which would no longer require residents to retreat before defending themselves with deadly force, as the current law does.
As public testimony hit the two-hour mark, the committee voted to limit the remaining comments to ten minutes for each side, prompting Democrat Sen. Stephanie Flowers, the committee’s vice chair, to chastise her fellow senators.
Flowers then defended the public’s right to comment, saying she believes her son, who is black, would not receive the same benefit of the doubt that his white counterparts would on either side of a gun. As she got more heated, the committee’s chair, Republican Sen. Alan Clark, asked her to restrain herself, which she refused.
“What are you going to do, shoot me?” Flowers asked.
Later, Flowers challenged the bill’s sponsor, GOP Sen. Bob Ballinger.
“I live in a county where people from the north, where Ballinger is from, come down here open carry for what purpose but to threaten,” she said. “I don’t understand this and if you want me to leave the room I’ll leave, but I want to vote first.”
The bill was eventually voted down, with Republican Sen. John Cooper joining the committee’s three Democrats in opposition.
Ballinger said he believes the changes to the current law would have been very minor, but would empower the “smaller, weaker” person in a confrontation to fight.
But various groups — including representatives from the Sheriff’s Association of Arkansas, the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorney’s Association, the Arkansas State Police, and the pro-gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action — all spoke against the bill. They said the current law is sufficient and argued the measure would increase gun violence.
“Right now, we’ve got a situation that works,” said Mark Hollingsworth, Criminal Investigation Division Commander for the Arkansas State Police.
Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Gary Sipes argued for de-escalation. “We’re going into troubled waters whenever we don’t try to retreat,” he told the committee.
The bill is among several gun rights measures being considered in the Arkansas Legislature this session, including one which would eliminate nearly all gun-free zones.
The National Rifle Association said in an online statement they support the legislation, adding it would have removed “ambiguous and confusing language in Arkansas’ current duty to retreat statute.”
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he believes it’s possible the current law could be “clarified by a more definitive statement.” But, he said, “I think we’ve always had good protections in Arkansas for those that take action to defend themselves or their property. I don’t think it’s been a problem.”
Associated Press writer Andrew DeMillo contributed to this report.