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Governor signs ‘stand your ground’ bill into law

by The Associated Press | March 4, 2021 at 8:19 a.m.
In this April 10, 2019 file photo, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to reporters in his office at the state Capitol in Little Rock. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo, File)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday signed into law a measure easing the state’s restrictions on the use of deadly force in self-defense, but urged conservatives who pushed for the legislation to pass a hate crimes proposal they’ve so far resisted.

The Republican governor signed the measure that removes the duty to retreat before deadly force can be used, despite past concerns he’s raised about changing the state’s self-defense law.

A similar measure stalled in the Legislature two years ago, but the bill this year moved more easily after groups such as the state’s sheriffs’ and prosecutors’ associations that previously opposed it said they’re neutral to the latest version.

Hutchinson said he was persuaded by law enforcement groups dropping their opposition, though acknowledged the fears from Black lawmakers and others that it will lead to more violence against people of color.

“I have no doubt these concerns are heartfelt and real, but there’s nothing in the language of the bill that would lead to different outcomes in our criminal justice system,” Hutchinson told reporters.

Supporters have said the bill is needed to give further legal protection to people who defend themselves, though opponents note state law previously allowed the use of deadly force without retreating in some situations.

“The evidence is stunningly clear: this law will make Arkansas less safe,” said Kate Fletcher, a volunteer with the Arkansas chapter of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement released by the group.

At least 28 states have “Stand your Ground” laws, according to the Giffords Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The most recent was signed into law by Ohio’s governor earlier this year. Arkansas’ law won’t take effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns this year’s session.

The bill had the backing of the National Rifle Association. Some conservative lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to loosen the restrictions even further by expanding where lethal force could be used in self defense.

“Victims have little time to react when confronted with a criminal attack, they should not be required to try and run away before defending themselves,” Jason Ouimet, executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement.

Hutchinson tried to connect the legislation to another bill he’s advocating that would impose additional penalties for committing crimes against someone because of their race, sex, sexual orientation or other characteristics. That measure has faced stiff opposition from some Republicans, including the sponsor of the Stand Your Ground measure.

“The justification for Stand Your Ground and laws addressing targeted crimes are the same: the fundamental right of all citizens to feel safe,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson also signed legislation that makes the state’s voter ID law even stricter by no longer allowing people without identification to cast a ballot if they sign an affidavit. Hutchinson said the new law should be monitored, saying changes may need to be made if voters aren’t provided “necessary assistance” in voting.

Democrats and voting rights groups have criticized the push to remove the affidavit option without any evidence of it leading to voter fraud. Nearly 2,700 voters in Arkansas without ID used the affidavit option in last year’s election and had their vote counted, according to numbers compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which opposed the legislation.

The new law will still allow someone without ID to cast a provisional ballot that will be counted only if they present an ID to the county clerk or election board by noon the Monday following the election.

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