Arkansas stand your ground amendment aims to protect shooters in gun-free zones

Second Amendment

The controversial stand your ground bill already defeated once this legislative session is back on the agenda for Tuesday, and with a new twist. A proposed amendment would allow killers to invoke the stand your ground defense even if they shoot someone in a place where guns are legally prohibited.

Members of the gun rights group Gun Owners of Arkansas opposed a previous version of the NRA-backed Senate Bill 24, but say they worked with sponsor Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R-Clarksville) on an amendment. The change, they said, will define what it means to be “lawfully present” in a way that erases the group’s previous concerns that the bill limited their Second Amendment rights rather than expanded them.

Gun Owners of Arkansas members worried the previous version wouldn’t cover a shooter who shot someone in self-defense in a “gun-free zone.” The amendment, which Pilkington said he plans to file Monday, will cover people who shoot in self-defense even if they’re in a place where they’re not legally allowed to be carrying a gun.

Gun Owners of Arkansas came out in force to oppose a previous version of the bill, and engaged in some online skirmishes with co-sponsor Sen. Bob Ballinger (R-Ozark). Ballinger questioned the group’s rightwing bona fides because they hired a progressive lawyer. Ballinger also took issue with the group’s leadership. Tim Loggains, who often serves as a spokesman for Gun Owners of Arkansas, is the former boyfriend of a woman convicted of murdering Linda Collins-Smith, once a member of the state Senate.

Pilkington took on the good cop role to Ballinger’s bad cop, working with Gun Owners of Arkansas to craft an amendment to soothe their worries. “It’s basically addressing the concern they had, which was, ‘What if I’m carrying and I didn’t see the signs there. Next thing you know I’m in a world of trouble,” he said in an interview Saturday.

Stand your ground laws like the one on the table in Arkansas remove the duty to retreat from danger if one can do so safely before using lethal force as self-defense. These laws provide legal protection to those who kill in self-defense, even if they could have safely walked away instead.

Not surprisingly, gun safety advocates are on high alert. Groups like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Citizens First Congress, Arkansas Stop the Violence and the NAACP already opposed the NRA-backed Senate Bill 24, and are expected to show up again when SB 24 comes up Tuesday at 2 p.m. in the House Judiciary Committee meeting.

Stand your ground laws are simply a license to kill, “allowing those who shoot others to obtain immunity, even if they started the confrontation and even when they can safely de-escalate the situation by walking away. Stand Your Ground laws are inherently dangerous because they change the nature of gun violence in a state by encouraging escalations of violence and, according to research, do nothing to deter overall crime,” according to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Similar laws in other states correlate with boosted homicide rates and have been invoked to justify murders of innocent black victims at the hands of white killers. Defenders of the white men who chased down and shot black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia have used stand your ground law as a justification for the killing.

The Arkansas Prosecutors Association opposed stand your ground legislation in 2019, arguing that current Arkansas self-defense laws are good and that no one could come up with any instances where a stand your ground law was needed. Prosecutors agreed to remain neutral this session as long as bill sponsors added language requiring anyone using a stand your ground defense to be lawfully present in the location where the killing happened. Should an amendment on the “lawfully present” definition pass, prosecutors are expected to change their stance.

“From my understanding, prosecutors do not like this amendment,” Pilkington said. But he doesn’t think that will matter. “Members of my party said if this amendment passes, their opposition will turn from no to yes.”

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