Arkansas "Stand Your Ground" Bill Has First Setback

The road a bill takes on its path to becoming a law isn’t nearly as smooth as the old Schoolhouse Rock song makes it out to be. That’s the best-case scenario and even then, it glosses over some of the minutiae of governing. In truth, that path can be rather rocky, especially for legislation considered controversial.

That seems to be the path being experienced by Arkansas’s Stand Your Ground bill, which just took a bit of a setback.

A contentious bill to eliminate the “duty to retreat” from Arkansas’ self-defense laws was derailed in a House committee Tuesday, after hours of testimony from opponents who said the proposal would give cover to armed vigilantes and racists.

The legislation, Senate Bill 24, is commonly referred to as a “stand-your-ground” bill, using the language of the National Rifle Association, which has thrown its support behind the bill.

But the bill has drawn fierce opposition from gun-control groups and community activists, who pointed Tuesday to studies in other states correlating stand-your-ground laws with increases in homicides, as well as the disparate success of “stand-your-ground” defenses in situations where Black people are injured or killed. Mental-health advocates, faith leaders and a coalition of Black mayors from around the state were among those who spoke against the bill Tuesday and during a rally at the Capitol over the weekend.

“This bill’s not right and you know it; it’s a racist bill,” the Rev. Benny Johnson, president of Arkansas Stop the Violence, told lawmakers Tuesday.

No, it’s not.

See, this kind of rhetoric is built on a lie. There’s this idea that “Stand Your Ground” really just lets white people shoot black people who scare them and nothing could be further from the truth.

All laws like this do is remove a duty to retreat. People who are in life or death situations don’t have to look around for a way out when their life is on the line, something that could well cost them their lives. This applies equally to all ethnicities.

Yet if you shoot someone who doesn’t represent a threat to you, it’s murder. Period. It doesn’t matter how scared you claim to be, if there’s no reason to fear for your life, you’re going to prison for murder.

As you should.

The problem is, anti-gunners don’t want you to think about it that way. They’ve figured out that if they call a bill racist long enough, people will just sort of accept that and take that position out of fear of being called racist themselves. It’s not debate, but manipulation.

However, the bill itself isn’t dead.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, said supporters of the bill would move to extract it from committee to the House floor this afternoon. Ballinger said he believed enough Republican support remained for the bill to surpass the two-thirds threshold to extract it. The House has 100 members, 77 Republicans and 23 Democrats.

“I think it’s easier to vote ‘no’ when you’re not going to be held accountable for it,” Ballinger said, referring to the fact that voice votes are not recorded for each member.

We’ll have to see just how things shake out in the long run, but Arkansas needs this.

Every state needs this, though we all know the usual suspects won’t pass it.