Photographs by Staton Breidenthal
Eve Jorgensen (right), state chapter president with Moms Demand Action, answers a question Monday along with Joseph Giannetto, associate regional director with Everytown for Gun Safety, during a legislative committee meeting at the state Capitol in Little Rock.
Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Republicans in the Legislature appeared more amenable Monday to legislation allowing for the temporary judicial confiscation of guns than to raising the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles, reflecting a similar openness to so-called red-flag laws as that of Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Still, either one of the two gun-control proposals presented to the Legislature by Democrats is likely to face an uphill battle during the 2019 session, their sponsors said.
The pair of bills -- one raising the minimum age to purchase an "assault weapon" to 21, the other to create an "extreme risk" warrant that would allow a judge to order the confiscation of guns from someone deemed a threat to himself or others -- were presented to the legislative Joint Performance Review Committee on Monday. The committee, along with the governor's Arkansas School Safety Commission, is studying what policies to put in place to prevent school shootings.
In the first several months of work, each of the groups has focused attention on the idea of expanding the number of armed schoolteachers and staff members. Those proposals have been met with opposition from some gun-control advocates.
One such group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, raised objections in July after its members were shut out from speaking at an earlier hearing of the Joint Performance Review Committee. The co-chairman of that committee, state Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, said she had scheduled Monday's meeting to allow input from the group, as well as from the legislative sponsors of gun-control legislation, state Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, and state Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock.
The state chapter president of Moms Demand Action, Eve Jorgensen, said the group had grown from a chapter in central Arkansas two years ago to a dozen chapters and nearly 1,000 members today. Seven chapters have opened, she said, since the shooting in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine's Day that killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Referring to a panicked situation at last month's Salt Bowl at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, where unfounded reports of gunshots sent the crowd of thousands fleeing, Jorgensen said the members of her group oppose arming people outside of law enforcement authorities to intervene in such situations.
"More guns in that situation would not have been helpful," she said. "More guns could have made it a lot worse."
Everytown for Gun Safety, the parent group for Moms Demand Action, supports both red-flag laws and higher age requirements for gun purchases, according to its website. About 20 members of the group attended Monday's meeting.
The red-flag legislation, as it has been referred to in other states, was one of five laws examined by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in its investigation last month into Arkansas' high rate of gun violence, which ranks seventh-worst in the nation with 16 deaths per 100,000 people.
The report examined laws that other states have passed to deter all forms of gun deaths -- not just school shootings, but other homicides and suicides.
Several days after the report was published, Hutchinson said at a news conference with reporters that he was "open" to supporting a red-flag law during the general session starting in January, if it was "accompanied by due process."
Leding, the legislation's House sponsor, told the committee Monday that he had been working on a draft of the bill since the Parkland school shooting in February.
In the aftermath of that shooting, Florida passed red-flag legislation that was signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Leding said his proposal is not model legislation but is based on a nearly 2-decade-old law in Connecticut.
The legislation drafted by Leding and Bond would require that two law enforcement officers investigate a threat and take the matter to a judge, who has to determine that grounds exist to confiscate someone's weapons while considering whether the person has threatened to harm himself or others. Within three weekdays, a follow-up hearing must be held to determine if the threat still exists.
"These are drafts, and we're willing to work with anybody," Leding said. "Republican governors across the country are signing [red-flag bills] into law."
Still, Republicans on the committee seemed skeptical.
"Is there any way to do this that is less likely to take away rights?" asked state Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale. "Have you got it as narrow as you can make it?"
State Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, suggested the focus should be on "Hollywood, TV, movie gun violence," while state Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, suggested that laws aiming to stop mass shooters would only make them "better at flouting the law."
State Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, said gun-control activists used "faulty logic" by focusing on deterring gun ownership, instead of arming people, such as teachers, to stop shootings.
"It only addresses 'if,' it doesn't address 'when,'" Garner said.
Others, including Senate President Pro Tempore-elect Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, sought to figure out what is allowable under current state law if police suspect someone of planning an attack.
Bond, a lawyer and co-sponsor of the red-flag bill, said that in some cases, the law may allow for jailing on criminal charges or even commitment to a mental hospital, but it does not give the judge the ability to take away someone's weapons barring a conviction.
Hendren, whose uncle is the governor, said there was an openness to the legislation in the Senate.
"A lot of us are having to get educated on the issue," Hendren said. "There's a willingness to have it explained to us."
The second proposal by Bond and Leding, to raise the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle, received much less discussion toward the end of the three-hour hearing.
"What is the purpose of it?" asked state Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, noting that the law could be skirted by teenagers who buy deadly non-semi-automatic weapons.
Irvin, the chairman of the committee, said the panel's next meeting will focus on issues related to mental health. She said she opposed red-flag legislation.
A Section on 09/11/2018
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