Nearly 80 leaders have signed a letter in opposition to Senate Bill 24.
Leaders of a variety of faiths from around the state are uniting in opposition to a “Stand Your Ground” bill. The Arkansas Senate last week approved the measure, which is now headed to the House.
The letter, which is addressed to Gov. Asa Hutchinson and members of the Arkansas Legislature, states that faith leaders “have been at the forefront of resisting gun violence.” For example, the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas has passed a resolution urging its churches to be agents for gun safety. Also, the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church encouraged congregations to keep guns out of churches after the state passed an enhanced concealed carry law.
“Churches have been affected by gun violence, and faith communities have hosted rallies and vigils against gun violence and promoting nonviolent conflict resolution,” the letter states. “Stand Your Ground is fundamentally opposed to these beliefs. It is always better to avoid taking a life if there is a clear and safe way to do so, but Stand Your Ground encourages people to resolve issues with violence.”
Nearly 80 faith leaders from around Arkansas have signed the letter including Jeremy Jones, pastor of St. Paul AME Church in Jonesboro.
“Of course it’s something that I’m completely against, that’s why I was one of the first to sign it,” he says.
Bob Ballinger, a Republican from Ozark, is the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 24, which seeks to amend the state’s self defense law by removing a requirement in certain circumstances to retreat before using deadly force. If it becomes law, Rev. Jones says it will open the door to do more harm than good.
“It talks about defending yourself as it relates to deadly force, and as an African American male I personally feel like that just the color of our skin is considered deadly force to some individuals,” Jones says.
It’s important for faith leaders to be involved and educate congregations about what’s happening in the community so they can be aware of issues like what they’re voting on, Jones says.
“If we go back to the Biblical days, politics were involved,” he says. “Jesus even got involved in politics so I think that it’s critical for us as a body of believers — no matter the color — I think it’s critical for all bodies of believers to be involved in politics.”
Jones is a former police officer and a current probation officer and says even though police reform is needed, law enforcement officers have more training than average citizens when it comes to assessing how much danger someone poses. That training can be useful when it comes to de-escalating a situation or when dealing with someone having a mental health crisis.
“You’re now saying that we don’t need police officers because we’re giving the same rights as a police officer would have to an untrained person to be that police officer.”
While presenting the bill to the Arkansas Senate last week, lead sponsor Sen. Bob Ballinger said he wants to put trust in the individual.
“I want to empower the citizen,” he said. “I believe that most citizens don’t want to kill somebody else and they want to de-escalate and I believe that they will. I believe that this bill won’t change that.”
Opponents have argued the law would have a disproportionate impact on people of color, but Sen. Ballinger argues the law is neutral.
“It’s not racist, it’s just a neutral law,” he said. “We say we’re going to provide more rights to people and when that happens, it lifts everybody up.”
The bill will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee next. You can keep up with the progress of the bill, including when it is put on this committee’s agenda, at www.arkleg.state.ar.us.