The sponsor of a proposed “Stand Your Ground Law,” which would eliminate the requirement to attempt retreat before using deadly force in self-defense in certain circumstances, agreed to make revisions after opponents said Tuesday the legislation would be a boon to violent criminals.
Rep. Mike Burris, D-Malvern, said he doesn’t agree with all the criticism of House Bill 1027. But after more than three hours of discussion in the House Judiciary Committee, he said he’d talk with opponents in hopes of coming up with legislation that they can support.
Among other things, his bill would eliminate language in state law that states, “A person may not use deadly physical force if he or she knows that he or she can avoid the necessity of using deadly physical force with complete safety... by retreating.”
The bill states that a person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is attacked with unlawful deadly force in any place where he or she has a right to be “has no duty to retreat and has a right to stand his or her ground and meet deadly physical force with deadly physical force.”
Some worried this would open the door to gunfights in public places.
Barbara Mariani, a deputy prosecuting attorney in Pulaski County, described specific prosecutions of people who she believes could have gotten away with crimes had HB 1027 been law.
In one case, she said the criminal drove around the block several times before confronting the victim and shooting. Jurors said they convicted him because he could have retreated instead, Mariani said. “This is going to be a heyday for criminal defendants to come into court and get off on technicalities,” Mariani said of HB 1027.
She spoke on behalf of the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association, which opposes the bill.
Burris said 15 states have similar laws and that prosecutors in those states used the same “scare tactics” to discourage passage.
“Are the people in Arkansas not smart enough to apply this law that’s already in effect in 15 states ?” Burris said.
Burris said he realizes there are problems with the bill. Even some members of the committee who are members of the National Rifle Association, which endorses similar legislation, said it needs changes.
Rep. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, said after the meeting that he’s an NRA member and doesn’t like the part of the bill that says a law enforcement agency “may not arrest a person for using deadly force unless it is determined that there is probable cause to believe the deadly force was unlawful.”
Clay Cross of White Hall, who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, told committee members that the legislation would hold law enforcement officials accountable if they have to investigate thoroughly before arresting someone who claims self defense.
He said as state law stands now he’s worried that he could be arrested for acting in his own defense.
“I’m terrified. I’m afraid to defend myself,” Cross said.
Jacksonville businessman Grant Exton said many Arkansans are afraid of the “immense discretion” of prosecutors to abuse law-abiding citizens who decide to protect themselves, their children or friends.
The authority granted under the bill would be used almost exclusively by holders of concealed weapon permits who are prudent in their use of firearms, Exton said.