‘Stand Your Ground Bill’ Fails in House Committee

Nearly two dozen Arkansans spoke against the legislation.

Stand Your Ground Committee
Rep. Jamie Scott questions SB24 sponsors during a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee Feb. 2, 2021.

After three hours of debate yesterday, a controversial “Stand Your Ground” bill failed to make it out of the House Judiciary Committee. Republican Sen. Bob Ballinger 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. Rep. Aaron Pilkington, a Republican from Knoxville, is the primary sponsor in the Arkansas House.

Rep. Jamie Scott, a Democrat from North Little Rock, voiced concern about the bill, which she said could cause more harm if it becomes law.

“This bill has the potential to bring out the worst out of us in Arkansas,” Rep. Scott said. “I think this bill offers opportunities for escalation instead of de-escalation and if we pass this bill, I believe mothers in this state will be burying their children, their husbands and their loved ones.”

Sen. Ballinger said he knew Scott was being sincere, but this legislation is something that 36 other jurisdictions have implemented in one form or another. 

“If it was resulting in that, you would have people clamoring — including me — clamoring to try to have this repealed, but that doesn’t happen. Not one of them’s been repealed yet,” Ballinger said.  

Rep. Scott asked Sen. Ballinger and Rep. Pilkington if they conducted or would support a racial impact study to determine the potential impact the bill would have on “poor communities and minorities, specifically in Arkansas.” Sen. Ballinger said he’s not open to stopping this bill to do that, but he would be willing to work with Rep. Scott to create a system where this information can be tracked and looked at.

“But I think what we’re going to find, Rep. Scott, is that it’s not going to be much different than it is today, so it’s going to be hard to point to where the stand your ground defense was implemented and it wasn’t just standard self defense,” he said.

Twenty-six people from a variety of backgrounds signed up to share their opinions on the bill. Twenty-two spoke, but only one person spoke in favor of the bill. Those who spoke against the bill expressed concerns about the negative impact the legislation could have on people of color as well as Arkansans with mental illnesses or those with special needs, especially those who are nonverbal.

The bill advanced out of the Arkansas Senate Jan. 19 before being heard by the House committee yesterday. The legislation failed on a voice vote, but it could be brought back to committee. The Arkansas House and Senate also have rules that would allow them to extract a bill from a committee and bring it to the floor for a vote.

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.