Arkansas legislators take a stand against “Stand Your Ground” bill

Last week the National Rifle Association suffered a resounding defeat in the State of Arkansas.

I imagine that this week most Arkansans will be resting a bit easier and feeling a lot more secure out on their streets, in parking lots, and in other public places following the defeat at the hands of the state’s judicial committee of a Stand Your Ground bill introduced by Republican State Senator Bob Ballinger. Following a hearing characterized by heated testimony and a passionate plea by State Senator Stephanie Flowers for senators to reject the proposal, the bill was defeated by a vote of four to three—with three Democrats and one Republican voting “nay” and three Republicans voting “aye.”

In their wisdom, Arkansas’ state senators delivered a blow to the National Rifle Association’s long-term legislative priority of expanding the Stand Your Ground law to all fifty states. Since 2005, when the NRA lobbied hard and successfully for the first Stand Your Ground law in Florida, twenty-four states have followed suit with their own iterations of the law—including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

What are Stand Your Ground or “no-duty-to-retreat” laws? The laws effectively remove an individual’s duty to retreat before using deadly force, as long as the individual reasonably believes that he or she is facing bodily harm or imminent death. Stand Your Ground can be invoked while an individual is present in virtually any place where the person has a legal right to be.

Here’s how Everytown for Gun Safety characterizes the dangers of Stand Your Ground:

Stand Your Ground laws upend centuries of traditional self-defense doctrine and threaten public safety by encouraging armed vigilantism, allowing a person to kill another person in a public area even when they can clearly and safely walk away from the danger.

The record on the fallout of invoking the Stand Your Ground defense is horrific. Americans were first made aware of how far justice could be thwarted with the shooting death by George Zimmerman of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the subsequent not-guilty verdict on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter after Zimmerman claimed he was acting in self-defense—even though Trayvon was unarmed.

The data since that first highly publicized incident demonstrates the extreme danger posed by these laws.

  • In Florida, in cases where perpetrators claimed Stand Your Ground as a defense, fully 79 percent of the shooters could have retreated to avoid the confrontation, and 68 percent of the individuals killed were unarmed.
  • Even more shocking, of those Floridians who claimed Stand Your Ground, almost 60 percent had been previously arrested, and about one third had been previously accused of violent crimes.
  • Since 2005, there have been two hundred incidents in Florida alone in which the Stand Your Ground law played a role in the decisions of prosecutors whether to bring charges, in juries’ decisions to acquit, or in judges’ decisions to throw out the charges.

A pattern of extreme racial bias and racial disparity has become ever clearer since the unjust verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. According to a study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine:

The impact of Stand-Your-Ground laws revealed a disturbing pattern of racial bias. Individuals (i.e., defendants) in Florida were more likely to avoid charges if the victim was black or Latino but not if the victim was white. Indeed, individuals are nearly two times more likely to be convicted in a case that involves white victims compared to those involving black and Latino victims.

Here’s what Everytown for Gun Safety observes about the dangers and injustices of Stand Your Ground:

These laws are associated with increases in homicides and injuries across different demographics and neighborhoods, while disproportionately impacting communities of color. They encourage the escalation of violence in avoidable situations and do not deter crime.

Watch and listen below to the despair, the frustration, and the justifiable anger of Arkansas State Senator Stephanie Flowers as she pleads for the life and safety of her son and for the lives of all Arkansans of color who would have born the brunt of the law’s assault on public safety had it passed.