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Arkansas lawmakers give final OK to ‘Stand Your Ground’ bill

Republican Sen. Bob Ballinger, right, speaks to the Senate at the Arkansas Capitol in Little...
Republican Sen. Bob Ballinger, right, speaks to the Senate at the Arkansas Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021 about his proposal to ease restrictions on the use of deadly force in self-defense. The Senate approved Ballinger's measure, sending it to the state House. (AP Photo/Andrew Demillo)(Andrew Demillo | AP)
Published: Feb. 24, 2021 at 5:54 PM CST
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to legislation loosening the state’s restrictions on using lethal force in self defense, sending the measure to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The House voted 72-23 for the bill, which removes the state’s duty to retreat before using deadly force. The Senate approved the bill last month.legal

A similar measure stalled in the Legislature two years ago, but the bill this year moved more easily after groups such as the state’s sheriffs’ and prosecutors’ associations that previously opposed it said they’re neutral to the latest version. Hutchinson said he’ll decide next week whether to sign the measure, though he’s previously expressed reservations about changing the state’s self-defense law.

The bill won approval despite several Black lawmakers urging colleagues to vote the measure down, saying it would lead to more violence against people of color.

“This bill has the potential to bring out the worst of us in Arkansas...I believe mothers, particularly women of color, will be burying their husbands, their children and their loved ones if we pass (the legislation),” Rep. Jamie Scott said before the vote.

At least 25 states have laws stating that there is no duty to retreat before using deadly force against an attacker, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The most recent state to enact such a measure was Ohio last month.

Supporters of the measure say it would additional protections for people who have to defend themselves, though the state’s current law already allows someone to use deadly force without retreating in certain circumstances.

“This allows the leveling of the field, so everyone gets the same consideration when you go to that court of law,” Republican Rep. Marcus Richmond said before the vote. “That’s the purpose of this self-defense bill, to allow you to defend yourself and not necessarily go to jail when you had no choice because you only had seconds to make that decision.”

Hutchinson has five days, excluding Sunday, once the legislation is delivered to his desk to sign it before it becomes law without his approval. Moms Demand Action, a gun control group, urged Hutchinson to veto the measure. It takes a simple majority of the House and Senate to override a governor’s veto in Arkansas.

“Stand your ground legislation passed by wide margins in both the House and Senate after considerable debate and testimony,” Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office. “I will take the weekend to review the testimony and debate and make a decision on the bill next week.”

Hutchinson, a former federal Homeland Security official and congressman, was tapped by the National Rifle Association to lead a task force that called for armed, trained school personnel after the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting in 2012.

In 2017, he signed into law legislation expanding where concealed weapons were allowed. He later signed a follow-up bill that exempted college sporting events, a change that the NRA opposed.

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