Arkansas, long known as “the Natural State,” is on the cusp of replacing its unofficial state nickname with a new one: “Harder to vote; easier to kill.”

I’ve adapted this new moniker from a Feb. 24 tweet by Senator Jim Hendren (Arkansas – District 2), regarding two pieces of legislation adopted by the Arkansas legislature.

“Today in the legislature, we made it easier to kill someone and harder to cast a vote,” he said. “I voted against disenfranchising voters today and against SB24 when it was in the Senate. The extremes are winning.”

The first bill (HB1112) promotes voter suppression by removing provisions that allowed Arkansans without a photo ID to vote if they signed a sworn affidavit.

This is just one example of many bills being proposed by state legislatures across the U.S. in an effort to limit the ability of citizens to vote. For anyone wondering if legislated / institutionalized racism is alive and well, such bills are exhibit A.

These efforts represent an updated version of Jim Crow laws aimed primarily at minimizing the political clout of certain groups of people. They are racist in origin, intent and effect.

The second bill (SB24) is known in common parlance as “stand your ground” legislation. It makes it easier for individuals to be protected legally if they employ extreme measures, such as shooting another human, in purported self-defense.

HB1112 and SB24 are now heading to Governor Hutchinson’s desk for his decision on whether or not to sign them into law.

Both issues, and both bills, are canards. They are solutions to problems that do not exist.

Rather than promoting the common good, fairness, equity and justice, they do the opposite. If signed by the governor, Arkansas truly will make it harder to vote and easier to kill.

To those who suggest there is widespread corruption in the voting system, I offer several points.

Participants in the Jan. 6 insurrection believed and promulgated the concept of the “Big Lie” – as Amanda Hiley described it in her recent Good Faith Media articles – that the 2020 presidential election was stolen through nefarious means.

They have no legal or objective confirmatory evidence. Attempts to promote this erroneous and malignant storyline have been roundly debunked in more than 60 recent court cases.

Those who promote such lies have also been pilloried and ridiculed appropriately for their complete lack of any objective data that would support their positions.

Similarly, those who propose that one of the great evils of society is the unlawful prosecution of people who kill someone in self-defense are barking up a tree which contains no prey. This is a nonexistent problem.

In the very rare case where someone is accused of using excessive force to protect themselves, there are more than adequate laws on the books (and, more importantly, commonsense) to address these circumstances.

The American Bar Association has conducted multiple analyses of “stand your ground” legislation.

Following a year-long study of such laws, ABA concluded in 2014 that “Stand Your Ground laws increase homicides, have no deterrent on serious crimes, result in racial disparities in the criminal justice system and impede law enforcement.”

Both pieces of legislation are based on lies that have been told often enough that they become accepted as fact by many. It is well past time that overt untruths be firmly labeled as such by us all.

The next step is that these lies should be dismissed summarily and that their proponents become isolated on their islands of ignorance and ignominy.

As a society, we have not done a good job of asserting and defending the facts and an even worse job of dismissing sheer nonsense out of hand.

Whether our inability to deal surgically and efficiently with “great lies” stems from apathy, ignorance or a misplaced sense of cultural politeness, or simply lack of a moral backbone, is irrelevant.

What matters is that our inability to do so continues to allow the promulgation of such putrid thoughts and actions. Our democracy is imperiled when legislation is conceived from fanciful lies and conspiracy theories.

Back to the two proposed pieces of legislation.

Arkansas is a beautiful state, yet one which seems hellbent on traveling back in time.

Rather than moving toward further inclusivity, transparency and increased involvement for greater numbers of people in the political process, our legislature is proposing we move in the opposite direction.

As a gun owner and believer in the Second Amendment, I see no threat to the right to bear arms that would necessitate SB24.

What I do see is a not-so-subtle way to take a cultural issue and politicize it with inflammatory rhetoric and unnecessary emotion to address a nonexistent problem.

While the inherent racism is evident in the first bill, it should not be glossed over that it also exists in the “stand your ground” bill.

This bill promotes the juvenile notion that the solution to a perceived problem should always be the knee-jerk reaction towards violence.

Knowing how this philosophy has been misapplied when people of color have been killed in so-called “self-defense,” it gives me even greater pause that it should be codified into law in Arkansas, or any state.

The larger national conversation is currently focused on enacting appropriate changes that need to be made to policing. For Arkansas to pass this legislation within this context of the larger national conversation is irrational thinking that harms my state.

Consider a practical matter along these lines.

Arkansas is usually ranked toward the bottom in terms of livability indices in the union.

Whenever businesses are looking to relocate or build a new factory or warehouse, considerations such as educational opportunity, public libraries, greenspace, pollution control, infrastructure, equal access for handicapped individuals, and equal application of civil rights for marginalized groups are considered.

I would posit that my state, which is near the bottom in most of those categories, only does itself further harm through legislation that suppresses rather than promotes justice and equality for all of its citizens.

So, to my state’s representatives, please consider the message you’re sending to out-of-staters wondering where to spend their next vacation and to businesses considering where they’re going to expand their operations.

Rather than welcoming them to “the Natural State,” these bills will reveal our new state moniker: “Harder to vote; easier to kill.”

I think I know how this plays out.

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