Arkansas House Approves ‘Stand Your Ground’ Legislation

The bill now heads to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk.

Representatives in the Arkansas House of Representatives voted 72-23 in favor of Senate Bill 24 yesterday. Republican Representative David Tollett voted present.

The controversial law failed in committee earlier this month, before sponsor Aaron Pilkington, R-Knoxville, brought the legislation back to the House Judiciary Committee with an amendment Tuesday. Legislators rejected the amendment, but advanced the original bill.

SB 24 removes the “duty to retreat” from the state’s self-defense law. Several African American legislators spoke against the bill including Rep. Jay Richardson, D-Fort Smith, who said the bill scares him because he has been in situations where people thought he was an aggressor because he walked up on them. 

“I know you guys don’t want to hear this is a racial thing, but it really is and I’m telling you that because I’ve experienced it,” Richardson said. “Two years ago today I lost a nephew because of this.”

Rep. Gayla McKenzie, R-Gravette, spoke for the bill while noting she was going to vote against it. 

“If I had to use lethal force, I would prefer to have the existing law that’s time-tested than this change,” McKenzie said. “I also acknowledge that there is so much confusion about self-defense in Arkansas.”

Rep. Pilkington has worked on the legislation with Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, for the last two years. It hasn’t been an easy process, but Pilkington said they feel this is the bill that “gets us to where we want to go and that most Arkansans are okay with.”

“We are slightly moving the needle here in Arkansas to allow Arkansans to defend themselves when they find themselves in situations where they need to use lethal force,” he said. 

The Arkansas House approved the measure which now heads to the governor’s desk. The governor has five days, excluding Sunday, to sign a bill, or it becomes law without his signature. A veto can be overturned by a simple majority of both chambers. 

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.