Arkansas Capitol

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas Senate panel on Wednesday advanced legislation loosening restrictions on the use of deadly force in self defense, two years after the proposal failed before the same committee.

By a 5-2 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed the proposal that remove would the state's duty to retreat. The measure now heads to the majority-Republican Senate.

A similar proposal failed before the same committee two years ago but was widely expected to win approval Wednesday, with five of the bill's sponsors holding seats on the eight-person panel.

At least 25 states have laws stating that there is not duty to retreat before using deadly force against an attacker, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Ohio's GOP governor on Monday signed legislation removing that state's duty to retreat.

The sponsor of Arkansas' bill couldn't cite examples of people being wrongfully prosecuted for defending themselves under the current law but said the change was needed to ensure that never happens.

“It's just like any other code section that's ambiguous or has bad policy, or the code section itself restricts the rights of citizens," GOP Sen. Bob Ballinger said.

Opponents of the bill said it could increase gun violence, especially against people of color, and noted it comes as the FBI has warned of armed rallies at the U.S. Capitol and all 50 state capitals leading up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.

“It becomes a solution that allows a private citizen to become the judge, the jury and the executioner of somebody’s behavior that you may not even know,” said Democratic Sen. Stephanie Flowers, a member of the committee whose comments opposing “stand your ground" legislation two years ago were widely shared online. Flowers and Republican Sen. Jim Hendren voted against the proposal.

Past opponents of the legislation, including the Arkansas Sheriffs Association and the state prosecutors association, were neutral on the latest version of the measure.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has expressed hesitancy about changing the state's self-defense law but has not taken a position on the bill. The governor said in a statement Wednesday said he was still following the debate and any amendments that may come up.

“As a lawyer, I have some questions about it," Hutchinson told reporters on Friday. “I’m not convinced it’s necessary yet but I’ll continue to study it."

Ballinger said he planned to bring the measure before the full Senate on Tuesday after an effort to bring up the bill Thursday failed.

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