The trigger-happy of Arkansas got a nice Christmas gift last week.
More than two dozen state legislators introduced a bill likely to pass that would make it easier to shoot a person because of the way that person made you feel.
Officer: "Sir, did you shoot this man?"
Man: "I did."
Officer: "Why did you do that, sir?"
Man: "Because he scared me and I thought he was about to shoot me."
Officer: "He appears to have been unarmed, sir. And why didn't you simply move away from the scene to try to avoid him?"
Man: "Because the state Legislature said I don't have to."
Officer: "Well, you're right about that. You're free to go, sir. Oh, wait. Are you in a gang?"
Officer: "All right, then. Sorry, but I had to ask. You have a nice day, sir. Try not to shoot anybody else. But, you know, if somebody scares you again ..."
This is about a stand-your-ground law. Most of these same hard-right legislators sponsoring this bill tried one in 2019 but got foiled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff delivered such a raw impassioned tirade about Black children getting killed by gun-toters that the video went internationally viral.
In one of the great political exchanges of our time, the committee chairman, Sen. Alan Clark of Lonsdale, advised her she needed to stop talking, and she asked what he intended to do if she didn't ... shoot her?
But that's not the reason the bill failed. Flowers had passion and she had right, but she didn't have votes.
What blocked the bill was that prosecuting attorneys said current self-defense protections in the law are adequate and that Sen. John Cooper of Jonesboro, a Republican, no less, voted no.
What's different this time? For one thing, the recent election showed Arkansas to have gone crazier since the winter of 2019, when it was plenty crazy already. For another, Cooper got beat by an extreme Republican. For another, prosecuting attorneys--politicians, too--are saying they'll stay neutral this time so long as the provision stays in that exempts gang members from being able to cite the same killing excuse as anybody else.
That seems to be unequal protection under the law, thus par for the modern American course.
You could have two identical sets of shooting circumstances, and the shootist not in a gang could go free while the kid in a gang would get hauled in.
Is the principle not the same either way, meaning the principle that you're excused under the law if you say you were scared?
And for one other big difference from 2019: Five hard-right senators have loaded themselves up on the Senate Judiciary Committee this time to keep the sane aberration of that distant past from happening again.
One thing that's still the same is that Asa Hutchinson is the governor, and, while a contemporary Republican, generally sane most days.
All he said about the stand-your-ground bill in '19 was that it seemed to him existing self-defense protections in our law were adequate.
Current self-defense law excuses actions taken in self-defense if the person taking the action does so after first considering reasonable steps to retreat to safety, and finds inadequate time or terrain to do that.
The prosecutors' point, and the governor's, at least two years ago, was that, as a practical matter, we had no evidence that existing law had failed to protect all the people who needed the protection.
In other words, the stand-your-ground bill was curious as to its supposed imperative.
Hutchinson has not declared himself on the measure this time. He likely will have his hands full this session applying his frequent sanity to fortifying what now passes for the new left flank of Arkansas legislative politics.
By the way, advocates of this bill will happily tell you that half the states have stand-your-ground laws and that it's high time Arkansas joined the parade.
But, then, 47 states have hate-crimes laws and these same legislators oppose making Arkansas the 48th, at least unless they can take out sexual orientation and gender identify as factors in special protections against violent crimes arising from hate.
The fact is that, in both cases, these laws of generic titling vary from state to state. Some of the stand-your-ground laws apply only to defending one's home from within one's home, under the "castle doctrine."
The point through all this is that nothing seems broken in our self-defense protection that needs fixing.
It might be that the real issue is that public gun policy in these parts is mostly by and for fear.
It's possible that it's braver to back away than to go all Barney Fife or Fredo Corleone on somebody whose looks scare you.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.