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Home abusers' guns targeted

Bill’s ban aims to square state, U.S. domestic violence laws by John Moritz | March 15, 2019 at 2:33 a.m. | Updated March 15, 2019 at 2:33 a.m.
Rep. Nicole Clowney (right) , D-Fayetteville, is shown asking questions during a House session at the capitol in Little Rock. Representatives, from left, Bruce Coleman and Steve Hollowell, listen in.

The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday moved to close a gap in state law that allows Arkansans convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to continue carrying firearms, despite a federal law against it.

Law enforcement, including the Arkansas State Police, told committee members they were handcuffed from seizing weapons or arresting people who violate the federal prohibition because there is no state law preventing people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from possessing a firearm.

House Bill 1655, by Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, mirrors the federal statute to enact the ban on the state level.

Clowney amended her bill prior to Thursday to allow an avenue for people to have their firearms rights restored if they are able to have their misdemeanor domestic violence conviction sealed. Clowney said that because there is no current state prohibition, Arkansans with those convictions have no pathway under current law to restore their federal firearms rights.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

According to a report by the Violence Policy Center, in 2016, Arkansas ranked fourth in the nation in homicide rates with female victims per 100,000 women. Of the 30 women killed by men that year, 76 percent were killed by a spouse or boyfriend. Most were killed with guns.

"It's a piece of legislation that makes a lot of sense," Clowney said.

The bill passed through the Republican-majority committee on a voice vote. Only one lawmaker, Rep. Cindy Crawford, R-Fort Smith, could be heard voicing dissent.

"You never know, when it's any bill that has to do with firearms, how it's going to shake out," Clowney said later Thursday.

In addition to hearing from a prosecutor and the state police, a woman who described her experience as a victim of an abusive ex-husband also called on committee members to support the bill. One member of the public spoke against it.

Rep. Dwight Tosh, R-Jonesboro, a former state trooper, also defended Clowney's bill, saying it had been subject to much "misconception."

Tosh said that Clowney had worked hard to fix concerns about the bill, and that it would not create any new barriers to gun ownership that do not already exist under federal law.

Crawford, the sole "no" vote, is the CEO at a women's crisis center based in Fort Smith.

"I'm just for gun rights," said Crawford. "My constituents want me to stand for gun rights."

According to Everytown For Gun Safety, a gun-control advocacy group, a total of 29 states have banned firearm ownership for misdemeanor domestic abusers. Those states include Arkansas' neighbors Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas.

A Section on 03/15/2019

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