A bill set to make its way through the Arkansas legislature would alter the state’s self-defense laws and allow for people to use “stand your ground” provisions in deadly confrontations.
State representative Aaron Pilkington (R – Clarksville) says House Bill 1059 will clear up ambiguities and make Arkansas law line up with our neighboring states.
“there's nowhere in there where I call it a “stand your ground” bill,” Pilkington said. “I call it a right to protect yourself. Other people are calling it a stand your ground bill.”
The label is controversial because Florida neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman avoided jail after he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, in 2012.
Unlike Florida, Arkansas would not have allowed Zimmerman to use the defense, and that’s surprising to some in Pilkington’s district.
“I had a constituent reach out to me letting me know that we weren't a stand your ground state and after kind of looking at the laws and how they were he was right,” Pilkington said. “We're one of the few states that are duty to retreat.”
Pilkington would take the retreat requirement out of the law. After the Martin shooting, critics predicted similar killings across the country.
“This basically gives someone the right to shoot and kill even if there is a safe way to get out of the situation,” said Eve Jorgensen, chapter leader of Moms Demand Action, a group that advocates for gun control. “Arkansas already has a strong self-defense law and there's no evidence to show that it doesn't work.”
But Pilkington said people in his rural district shouldn't have to worry about these legal questions if they are in danger.
“Sometimes police response times are a lot longer than you would hope they are and there's situations where you don't feel like you can retreat,” he said. “But local prosecutors may feel differently that you can and this kind of ambiguity puts us in a bad situation.”
The Bill goes before the House judiciary committee Tuesday morning, Feb. 5.
Pilkington expects it to head to the Senate without too much trouble.
He said Governor Asa Hutchinson has yet to indicate him where he stands on the proposal.