Opinion

According to Arkansas Code, 5-2-607, in any public place, Arkansans have the right to use deadly force in self defense if they reasonably believe that someone is going to commit a felony involving violence, is using or is about to use unlawful deadly force or imminently about to victimize the person as domestic abuse.

However, according to this law, an Arkansan is under one obligation: If they can retreat with “complete safety,” they must do so. Merely, if the victim can avoid killing the perpetrator, they should choose to just run away instead. However, this duty to retreat is only for public places, so on one’s private property, the victim can feel free to use deadly force against violent force.

This could change very soon because of House Bill 1059, filed by State Representative Aaron Pilkington.

HB 1059 is most commonly known as a “stand your ground” bill that would take away an Arkansans’ duty to retreat.

Why wouldn’t we want people to retreat before they seek deadly force? Is there a real reason for this law change, and how does this affect public safety? While some might say that it makes criminals less likely to commit crimes in public places, we can all agree that criminals really don’t care about laws. That’s why they’re called criminals. According to a study by the American Bar Association, based on recent empirical evidence, “stand your ground” states experienced an increase in homicides.

In Florida, a similar law has had disastrous results. In one case, a defendant used Florida’s “stand your ground” to justify beating a Jack Russell Terrier to death with a chair leg, even after it was already incapacitated. In another dispute over a boating ticket, the perpetrator killed the unarmed boat owner and his weaponless friend, despite being completely untouched during the incident. Both killers walked free.

Before this law, the state of Florida’s murder rate was below the national average. Now, it is 8 percentage points higher. Researchers have directly linked this rise to the enacted “stand your ground” law.

In a 2012 study of 200 cases, 70 percent of Florida defendants who used the “stand your ground” law as a defense walked free after attempting or succeeding in killing someone.  If the perpetrator killed a black person, their likelihood of walking free was even higher, too. These results are disastrous and not something Arkansas legislature should be mimicking.

The American Bar Association has found that an individual’s right to self-defense was sufficiently protected prior to “stand your ground” laws. Truly, the laws currently on the books are doing just fine at making sure that citizens can defend themselves. It is unbelievable that our lawmakers seem most worried about legislating less accountability for murder when Arkansas is 42nd in education. This law makes those supporting it appear severely out of touch with the everyday Arkansan.

Finally, let’s think of victims: That same study found that victims’ rights are undermined in states with statutory immunity from criminal prosecution and civil suits related to “stand your ground” cases. Republicans are supposed to be the party of law and order, but this seems a lot more like vigilantism.

I go to the UofA, the same place the state legislature voted to allow concealed carry on campus in 2017. The idea of any disagreement being misconstrued as an incident that could lead to deadly force is upsetting. Fist fights at frat parties turning into shootouts or Dickson Street bar fights turning into murder with no repercussions is a real possibility if this bill is implemented.

There is a reason there are more homicides in states with “stand your ground” laws: It makes it easier to get away with murder in a public place. Just claim they swung first.  

Tell your legislators to vote no on this bill. As UA students, the chance of gun violence is too close to home to risk giving criminals more excuses to shoot someone.

 

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