Earlier today, thirty-eight representatives voted down HB1655, “An Act to Protect Victims of Domestic Abuse.” 1 That bill, sponsored by Rep. Nicole Clowney (D-Fayetteville), would have brought Arkansas law more in line with federal law by amending the existing Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-26-313. As amended under HB1655, where a person is convicted of a misdemeanor offense involving domestic violence, that statute would have required the court where he/she was convicted (1) to note on the judgment of conviction that the conviction prohibited the person from owning a firearm and (2) to transmit a copy of that record to the Arkansas Crime Information Center (ACIC). ACIC would then determine if the offender was eligible to be placed on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and, if so, to enter the person into that system.
The bill also would have amended Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-73-103(a) to include “a misdemeanor involving domestic violence” to the list of persons who could not own firearms under that subsection. Finally, HB1655 would have put specific due-process protections into 5-73-103 such that, broadly speaking, a person would only be ineligible to own a firearm after conviction if the person had been represented by counsel and had been convicted by a jury, unless the person waived either or both of those rights.
Now, keep in mind, federal law already prohibits someone convicted of domestic violence from owning a firearm under 18 U.S.C. 922(g). Some people have complained that the federal statute does not go far enough in how it defines who is ineligible to own a gun, but HB1655 was not trying to expand that definition at all. Indeed, HB1655 specifically defined “misdemeanor offense involving domestic violence” as “a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33), as it existed on January 1, 2019.”
So, all told, HB1655 was simply a way to make sure Arkansas law was in line with federal law while also actively providing notice to convicted persons that the conviction made them ineligible to own a gun. This should not have been a particularly controversial vote, at least not in a state where the legislature is not comprised of people who value gun ownership over protecting the victims of domestic violence. Nevertheless, as mentioned, the measure failed.
Considering the nature of the bill, all of the “no” votes are troubling. However, one of the people voting against HB1655 was Rep. Jack Ladyman (R-Jonesboro), who has literally been accused, in graphic detail, of domestic violence in the past.
In March 1999, Linda Ladyman filed for an ex parte order of protection in the Craighead County Chancery Court, alleging, in part:
Last night he said he was going to kick me out. He was upset about an overdraft from bank and other bills that haven’t been paid. He is blaming me for the financial problems when I have 4 jobs and do what I can. He yells and screams at me and calls me a whore. He yells cuss words at me all the time and tells me that I don’t do anything right (cooking, cleaning, etc.). He tells me that I owe him. He says I’m going to pay him back for everything that I’ve done, when I haven’t done anything. He has locked me out of the house three times in THE last four months. One time I had to spend the night in the car. About three weeks ago when my son hurt his shoulder [jack] pushed a stretcher into my side when we were in the emergency room.
In the next section, where the form asked why Mrs. Ladyman was afraid of Rep. Ladyman and why there was an immediate and present danger of domestic abuse to her, she wrote:
About 5 to 7 years ago he pushed me down some steps at the Valley View School gym with other people around. It broke my ankle. He got mad because I couldn’t do things for him. The doctor told me to stay off the ankle. Jack told me I could do just as much in the wheel chair as I could standing.
October 26th of 1998 he broke a mirror and didn’t clean it up. I cut my foot on the glass and had to seek medical attention.
Thanksgiving he was trying to put a bed in a room and got mad because it wouldn’t fit. He got mad and broke out a window.
Things are escalating to the point where I think the verbal abuse is again going to turn physical. I’m scared of what he might do the next time he gets mad.
That order of protection was entered, and it lasted until March 2000. In July 2000, Mrs. Ladyman again sought an order of protection against Rep. Ladyman. This time, she wrote:
On 7-9-00 [Jack Ladyman] called the petitioner and told [her] he was going to get her one way or another. The petitioner took this statement as a threat. During February and March [Jack ladyman] mailed the petitioner 10 letters stating how [he] was going to get [her] back.
Again in the section where she describes the immediate and present threat of abuse, Mrs. Ladyman wrote:
The petitioner had an order of protection that expired in March of 2000. The petitioner is afraid that since the order has expired [Jack Ladyman] will come after her again. Since the order has expired, [Jack Ladyman] has come to the petitioner’s house. [He] told her he could because he was no longer subject to the order of protection. On 7-8-00 and 7-9-00, [Jack Ladyman] came to the petitioner’s house and demanded they talk. [Jack Ladyman] told the petitioner he would talk to her one way or another.
The documentation of all of this can be read here.
Now, it is worth noting, if only for the sake of clarity and full disclosure, that it does not appear that any charges were filed against Rep. Ladyman for any of the abuses outlined in the two petitions for order of protection. This is not uncommon; abused spouses often seek an order of protection but stop short of seeking criminal charges, whether out of fear or love or some combination of both. Importantly, however, this means HB1655 would explicitly not have applied to Rep. Ladyman had it been in effect in 1999 or 2000, because he would not have been “convicted of a misdemeanor offense involving domestic violence.”
That said, the pattern of abuse shown in the two petitions–and the statement “Things are escalating to the point where I think the verbal abuse is again going to turn physical”–show exactly why a bill like HB1655 is both necessary and helpful. Domestic abuse rarely happens in a vacuum, and it is rarely a one-off incident. Often it takes multiple incidents before a victim is actually willing to go to the police and pursue criminal charges. When that happens, any conviction that comes out of those charges generally represents only the most recent or the (up to then) most egregious acts of abuse, not the sum total of all past abuse. Why would we as a state–and the legislature as a body that is supposed to put the people’s interests first–not want to take the basic, minor step to try to prevent an abuser in that scenario from obtaining a firearm after such a conviction?
It is one thing for the other thirty-seven representatives who voted against HB1655 to do so. It’s not a vote that I can understand, but it’s a political calculation of some sort, and that’s the world we live in.
But for Jack Ladyman to vote against HB1655? That doesn’t look like politics, and anyone who knows the backstory, regardless of party, should be appalled.
These votes were bolstered by the twenty-seven cowards who either didn’t vote or voted present, but that’s neither here nor there.↩