The need to protect ourselves and our families is a basic instinct.
Jeremy Apel practices his marksmanship at a North Little Rock gun range regularly, just in case the need to act ever arises.
“Just two weeks ago, we had a house broken into less than a quarter of a mile from here,” said Apel, referring to his home. “I have a little girl and a wife. It's always nice to have that peace of mind, I guess.”
As violent crime continues rising in Arkansas, more Arkansans are arming themselves. They’re prepared to pull the trigger without fully understanding the state's self-defense laws.
Self-defense laws are called castle laws. They give a person the legal right to defend themselves with deadly force, regardless of where they are. Arkansas doesn't have castle laws leaving many self-defense cases for prosecutors and courts to decide.
“You have the right to defend yourself when you feel there is a threat of personal bodily harm or death,” said Dr. Jeff Walker a UALR Criminology Professor.
What this means is that if you're at home, and someone breaks in, if you feel like your life is in immediate danger, under Arkansas law you can use deadly force. Thanks to a new law, you can also use deadly force against an imminent threat in your yard, but that's only if they are attacking you.
“You can't use deadly force to defend property only. If they're going out your window with your television, you have much less opportunity to take the shot because you're not defending yourself, you are defending your property. If you want a bottom-line of what the law says, it’s all in how you argue it after the fact,” said Dr. Walker.
A lot of the responsibility is placed on prosecutors, like Jefferson County Chief Deputy Kyle Hunter. “We have to look at all of the facts and evidence, all of them, to make a decision whether we believe someone was reasonable or not,” said Hunter.
State legislators weighed in with two bills earlier this year. One extended the boundaries of self defense to include the person's yard. It passed. The second didn't. It said individuals could stand their ground anywhere they face an imminent threat.
“It is very confusing, and I think the large majority of the citizens of the state are not fully aware of their limitations and their rights,” said State Representative Mike Burris, (D) Malvern.
“The reason the law is vague is because we can't cover all of the intricacies the law would cover, so we keep it vague, so your explanation carries you,” said Dr. Walker.
While the Stand Your Ground bill never made it out of committee in Arkansas, similar bills passed in 25 other states, including neighboring Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas.