2019 Session: Bill clarifies state law to ban guns from Arkansans convicted of domestic violence

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Update:

A bill that would ban Arkansans convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from possessing or purchasing a gun died on the House floor Tuesday.

The prohibition already exists under federal law, but House Bill 1655 would clarify Arkansas law, giving state and local agencies the power to handle these cases.

The bill received 38 nays and 35 yeas, with 10 voting present and others not voting. It needed a simple majority to pass. 

St. Rep. Cindy Crawford, R-Fort Smith, the CEO of a women’s crisis center who was the only “no” vote in committee, spoke against the bill, concerned it would set a precedent to ban guns in other misdeameanor convictions.

St. Rep. Fred Love, D-Little Rock, made a motion to expunge the vote to bring back the bill, but it failed as well.

The sponsor, St. Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, expressed her disappointment and said if she’s back in a future session, this bill will be, too. 

Update:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A bill that would ban Arkansans convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from possessing or purchasing a gun cleared its first hurdle Thursday.

The prohibition already exists under federal law, but House Bill 1655 would clarify Arkansas law, giving state and local agencies the power to handle these cases.

The sponsor, St. Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, told the House Judiciary Committee the legislation also gives due process to these felons and following an amendment, provides a pathway to restoration of rights once the misdemeanor conviction has been sealed. 

“This bill is not meant to punish anybody for life,” Clowney said. “It’s meant to keep people safe.”

One survivor of domestic violence shared her story with the committee to urge its members to vote for the measure.

“On March 18, 2013, my life took a violent turn,” said Jessica Rogers.  

Nearly six years ago to the day, Rogers’ estranged husband attacked her.

“I remember my ears buzzing with the static sound turning to silence as my body hit the floor,” she said.

Rogers told state lawmakers his punch knocked her unconscious, but she wasn’t the only one home.

“It was the sound of my four-year-old daughter’s cries that forced my eyes to open,” she said. “She was standing over me saying, ‘Mommy, please wake up.'”

He was charged with second-degree domestic assault and pleaded guilty. It then took Rogers four months to get an order of protection, during which time she remembers he continued to harass and stalk her.

“The fear of him showing up at my home with a gun was a real and tangible threat,” Rogers said. “During the waiting period, things could have easily turned deadly for me.”

It didn’t, but in 2018, there were 41 domestic violence homicides in Arkansas. More than half were gun deaths.

That’s why Rogers supports the bill, but opponents argue the law violates human rights.

“There’s been some misconception, and I just think for the record, we need to establish now: does this in anyway add any additional restrictions to anyone’s gun rights?,” St. Rep. Dwight Tosh, R-Jonesboro, asked Clowney as a retired state police captain.

“This adds no additional restrictions to anyone’s gun rights,” she responded. 

When it came time for the vote, the only “no” came from St. Rep. Cindy Crawford, R-Fort Smith, who is the CEO of a women’s crisis center but also a defender of gun rights.

The bill now moves to the full House.

Police chiefs also support it, saying domestic violence calls lead to more officer fatalities than any other call.

Original story: 

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A new bill would ban Arkansans convicted of domestic violence from owning or possessing a gun under state law.

The prohibition already exists under federal law.

HB 1655 is a bipartisan push to fix this gray area.

St. Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, said a prosecutor of domestic violence cases came to her with the idea.

Clowney explains if someone with a domestic violence conviction is in possession of a gun, they are committing a felony. But if state or local police encounter someone violating this federal law, there is no way for them to enforce the law and take away the weapon. These entities would have to call federal law enforcement to do it.

Clowney’s bill would give state and local agencies the power to handle these cases.

“This is a piece of legislation that makes sense no matter what party you belong to, no matter whether you own a gun or not,” Clowney said. “It’s not about guns. It’s just about enforcing the federal law in a way that protects victims of domestic violence and our law enforcement.”

Clowney said according to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors across the state, domestic violence calls are the most dangerous ones for officers to respond to.

The Democrat’s Republican colleague in the House, St. Rep. Dwight Tosh, a retired state police captain, is the co-sponsor of the bill. Tosh said he supports the legislation overall but may need to work with Clowney to clean up some of the wording. 

Clowney plans to run the bill for the first time in the House Judiciary Committee March 14. 

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