The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday, January 13 to advance SB 24, a so-called “Stand Your Ground” bill, in a vote of 5-2. Today, that bill heads to the Senate floor for a full vote.
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Bob Ballinger (District 5-R), feels confident it will pass. “I am pretty confident it will get through the process as it has had overwhelming support.”
The proposed legislation allows for the defense of a person with the use of physical force or deadly physical force. Senate Bill 24 would remove the duty to retreat from a deadly force situation as long as the person was lawfully present and had a reasonable belief they were being threatened.
A grassroots gun owners organization is challenging the language of the bill, however. Gary Epperson, President of Gun Owners of Arkansas, states that labeling this bill as “Stand Your Ground” is “misleading at best.” “Before a person has the protections of this law, they must determine if they’re lawfully present. If not, then the individual has a duty to ‘attempt’ to retreat even if the threat is a drawn weapon. For example, if a passerby observed a school shooting in progress and responded inside they wouldn’t have protections of this self-defense law because a citizen would be violating the law (by) having a weapon in a school building.”
GO-AR Executive Vice President Dallas Green agreed, stating “as originally filed, Gun Owners of Arkansas opposed SB 24 completely on numerous grounds because of the language of the bill. We support the concept that everyone has a right to defend themselves, and that ability to retreat or stand your ground should not be a determining factor in the justification for using force to defend yourself or another person. We feel Senator Ballinger had good intentions, even as SB 24 fell short of… providing clarity in the self-defense laws, and allowing all Arkansans the ability to defend themselves from criminals. We appreciate the amendments Senator Ballinger has made, but we cannot support this bill unless more language is changed to bring clarity to the law, and fully protect all citizens’ right to defend themselves regardless of location as long as they have a right to be in the location where force is used.”
Representatives of Gun Owners of Arkansas testified against the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, seeking an amendment to the term “lawfully present.” Epperson contends that lawfully present is determined by the agenda of those in power. “What is lawful today could be unlawful tomorrow…” added Green. “Tying the ability to defend yourself to lawful presence is dangerous. Over 1,000 laws will be made in Arkansas in just the next few months. The citizens of Arkansas are extremely worried about what the new administration will pass under President Biden. Citizens could be lawfully present today and unlawfully present tomorrow without even knowing it. We support amending this to state: ‘right to be at the location force was used.’ If I have a right to be there, I should obviously have a right to defend myself.”
The organization’s president went on to add that the “wording (of this bill) is so confusing that it’s dangerous.” Epperson called for simpler language “at a level a teenager could understand.” He added that the four means of carry in Arkansas, on a “journey,” permitless, with a concealed handgun license or an enhanced handgun license, further adds confusion about the justification of self-defense. “Under SB 24, each method a person carries under has a different level a person may be justified in using self-defense,” shared Epperson. “For example, one can here, but not there. Heller’s District of Columbia established every person has the right to self-defense and SB 24 establishes different standards based on the method of carry, GO-AR is concerned if SB 24 went under a Arkansas Supreme Court review, the law would be struck, and leave the citizens of Arkansas with no legal means in protecting themselves.”
Epperson concluded that he is surprised that the National Rife Association would back such a dangerous bill. “While many feel that the NRA has advanced gun rights across the nation historically, Gun Owners of Arkansas will not compromise on the principle that no person should ever purchase a right, that our rights come from our Creator and not from government,” Green added. “We believe that all people are endowed by their Creator with the right to defend themselves. While we will not speculate on why the NRA does or does not support any legislation, Gun Owners of Arkansas will never compromise on our rights. We also feel that Gun Owners of Arkansas, as a grass-roots Arkansas based organization, is much better suited to understand what the citizens of Arkansas are demanding from their legislators.”
Although Green would not say whether or not she felt the bill would pass, she did state that four house members have removed their names as co-sponsors of the legislation. “Gun Owners of Arkansas feels this bill would have a much better chance of passing not only committee, but a full vote of both chambers if “lawfully present” was amended to “right to be in the location force was used.”
SB 24 goes to the Senate floor today, and if approved, will head to the House Judiciary Committee.