Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday that he would be "open" to supporting legislation that would create judicial orders to temporarily seize firearms from people deemed a risk to themselves or others, as a way of reducing gun violence in Arkansas.
The governor's comments came in reaction to an investigation by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which found that more than 8,000 people were killed by gunfire in the state between 1999 and 2016, a per-capita rate that ranked seventh-worst in the nation.
The newspaper also examined several model laws that were touted by researchers and advocates and enacted in states that have lower rates of gun violence.
Asked to respond to the report, Hutchinson, a Republican, said entering state-level information into a federal background check system and helping federal authorities crack down on felons in possession of weapons are two practices that could have a positive impact on gun violence.
He singled out as a possible solution so-called red-flag laws, or temporary orders for the confiscation of guns from at-risk people.
"It has to be accompanied by due process. It has to be, because you're dealing with constitutional rights and liberties," Hutchinson said. "It's fair to look at it ... that could be a debate in the next session of the Legislature."
Red-flag laws were the only proposals examined by the newspaper that have gained traction ahead of the next general session, which starts in January. Two Democratic lawmakers, Rep. Greg Leding of Fayetteville and Sen. Will Bond of Little Rock, have already drafted such a proposal.
More than a dozen states have passed such a law, including Indiana, a state governed by Republicans.
"Most everyone we've talked to has expressed an open mind. They want to see the details," Leding said Wednesday, adding that he had yet to send a draft to the governor.
"I'm encouraged that the governor is willing to look at it," Leding said.
Senate President Pro Tempore-elect Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, and House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, said they had yet to review the draft proposal for a red-flag law, and like the governor, wanted to review specifics of the plan.
Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, attended a Wednesday morning news conference at which Hutchinson spoke on an economic development matter. Afterward, Garner said he would oppose Bond and Leding's proposal. In an interview earlier this year, Garner said he would consider supporting a red-flag law, depending on who sponsored the legislation.
"I strongly disagree with the legislation that Democrats Will Bond and Greg Leding have proposed," Garner said. "It denies due process."
Hutchinson said some of the other laws examined by the newspaper -- universal background checks, waiting periods, safe storage requirements and mandatory reporting of lost and stolen firearms -- were "nonstarters" in Arkansas. He declined to specify which laws those were.
The Democrat-Gazette found that the four states with the lowest rates of gun deaths -- Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York -- had passed at least one of the five laws examined by the newspaper.
Gun-control advocates and researchers who spoke to the newspaper said greater restrictions on access to firearms are shown to reduce gun violence. The National Rifle Association, which did not comment for the report, has been staunchly opposed to efforts to limit access to guns.
"Moms Demand Action would welcome the support of the governor to save lives in Arkansas," said Eve Jorgensen, the state chapter leader of the national gun-control advocacy group.
In a statement Wednesday, Hutchinson's Democratic opponent in the November election, Jared Henderson of Little Rock, said he was "deeply concerned" about gun violence in Arkansas and that solutions are needed from both major political parties.
"We can protect our children and loved ones from gun violence, and if elected I would encourage bipartisan discussion that holds true to Arkansas values and keeps our families safe," Henderson said.
The libertarian gubernatorial candidate, Mark West of Batesville, said in a phone call Wednesday that he opposes any attempts to expand background checks or enact waiting periods, safe-storage requirements and mandatory reporting. Like the governor, he said he would like to see the specifics of "red flag" legislation to ensure it includes due process.
Information for this article was contributed by Ginny Monk of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Ryan Tarinelli for the Democrat-Gazette.
Metro on 08/16/2018
Print Headline: Governor 'open' to red-flag law on guns