LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas House panel on Tuesday advanced legislation loosening the state’s restrictions on the use of deadly force in self defense, weeks after rejecting the same measure.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 10-9 for the bill that would remove would the duty to retreat. The Senate-backed bill now heads to the full House for a vote. If the majority-GOP House approves the measure, it heads to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk.
The bill advanced after failing before the same committee earlier this month. Most of the debate Tuesday focused on an unsuccessful effort to loosen the restrictions even further by expanding where lethal force could be used.
The sponsor of the measure said the bill puts into law what is already the practice by prosecutors and offers protections to Arkansans who have to defend themselves.
“We’re moving the needle very small amounts,” Republican Rep. Aaron Pilkington said.
A similar measure failed before a Senate panel two years ago, but the bill this year moved more easily through the Legislature after groups that opposed it have said they’re neutral to the latest version. Hutchinson has not said whether he supports the legislation, though he’s previously expressed reservations about changing the state’s self-defense law.
At least 25 states have laws stating that there is no duty to retreat before using deadly force against an attacker, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The most recent state to enact such a measure was Ohio last month.
Opponents of the measure said it would put more people at risk. They noted Arkansas law already allows someone to use deadly force without retreating in certain circumstances.
“It would only add confusion to our self-defense laws and encourage more violence,” Kate Fletcher, volunteer with the Arkansas chapter of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement released by the group.
The panel earlier rejected a proposal to allow people who are trespassing, including in areas where guns aren’t allowed, to use their weapon in self-defense as long as they aren’t committing a more serious felony.
The change was aimed at winning over some conservative gun rights supporters. But it drew opposition from the state prosecutors association, which had been neutral about the bill. The group said it would create confusion.
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