More states sanction deadly force
By Proxy Author, Proxy Author for Import
A year-old Florida law sanctioning the use of deadly force to defend against muggers, carjackers or other assailants outside the home is rapidly being adopted by other states and already is being raised as a defense in at least three shootings in Florida.
Six states — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Dakota --- already have followed Florida's lead in enacting the controversial "stand your ground" laws, and Arizona and Idaho have adopted slightly less strict versions of the law.
Similar bills are pending in 16 other states, including in Michigan, where the state House on a 91-to-15 vote on April 25 sent a measure to the Republican-controlled state Senate.
"I expect this to pass the Senate equally as overwhelmingly because everybody understands this is a bill that protects the victims of crimes from being victimized a second time by civil lawsuits or criminal prosecutions," said Michigan state Rep. Rick Jones (R), who sponsored the bill.
The "stand your ground" measures, being pushed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), have been rejected in a handful of states, including gun-friendly Wyoming and Virginia.
But the NRA has had other pro-gun victories this year. Nebraska and Kansas (over a governor's veto), became the 47th and 48th states to legalize carrying concealed weapon. Now only Illinois and Wisconsin forbid concealed weapons. In addition, Idaho and Virginia adopted new statutes prompted by the chaos after Hurricane Katrina that strip authority from law enforcement to confiscate firearms during states of emergency.
While it already is legal in most cases to use deadly force against an attacker in your home, the new self-defense laws allow victims to retaliate against an attacker in public. The laws grant immunity from criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits for actions of self-defense. Arizona's new self-defense bill is more limited, extending the right to use deadly force only to cars and businesses, and Idaho's new law only deals with blocking civil lawsuits filed in cases of self-defense.
The NRA and other supporters say the new self-defense laws are needed to counteract so-called "duty to retreat" laws, which require that people attempt to flee an attacker before retaliating and which only allow deadly force as a last resort if it's clear a life is in danger. About half of states have such statutes or legal precedents, according to the NRA.
"It goes on common sense that the law ought to be on the side of the victim," whether they're inside or outside their home, said NRA spokesperson Andrew Arulanandam.
Critics, such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence , have dubbed the new measures "shoot-first" laws and argue they would make it more likely that confrontations turn deadly and will make it harder to prosecute people who commit acts of violence.
"Unfortunately, the law has had precisely the effect we thought it would. A handful of overly aggressive individuals are using it as a defense for actions that appear to go beyond the pale of self-defense," said Peter Hamm, spokesperson for the Brady Campaign.
Since the law was adopted by Florida, it has been cited as a defense in at least three cases, Hamm said. The cases include a tow-truck operator who shot and killed an unarmed man who tried to drive his car from the tow lot without paying the towing fees; a man who got in a fight and then shot his opponent; and several individuals accused in a gang shooting that resulted in two deaths.
The "stand your ground" measures are among the most popular ever pushed by the NRA, Arulanandam said. In several states that have voted on the measures, at least one branch of the legislature approved them with near unanimous support, including in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and Idaho.
Alabama state Sen. Larry Means (R) introduced a "stand your ground" bill after reading about Florida's law in an NRA magazine. Means said that he received an "unbelievable" response from his constituents in favor of the bill and that passing it was the highlight of his eight-year legislative career.
"I have received more calls in favor of this bill than any other legislation," Means said.
The only member of the Kentucky Senate to vote against his state's new self-defense law was state Sen. Ernesto Scorsone (D), a Lexington, Ky., criminal defense attorney for more than 30 years. He said the statute would only make it more difficult to prosecute people who use inappropriate force.
"It's perfectly clear in Kentucky that you have a right to self-defense. The purpose of this bill was to sanction the use of firearms in all kinds of disputes, and that does not further public safety," Scorsone said.
The Kentucky Senate did vote down a separate NRA-backed bill passed by the House that would have shielded people from prosecution for bringing guns into schools that do not have signs posted at every school entrance declaring it a felony to carry guns on school property.
The conservative gun-friendly state of Wyoming this year rejected both a bill to allow deadly force as a first resort in public as well as a bill that would have allowed any eligible citizen to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.
Wyoming state Rep. Stephen Watt, (R), a police officer for 27 years, said he was shocked that the House Judiciary Committee rejected his "stand your ground" measure. The House committee voted 6 to 3 against the measure after the Wyoming Sheriff's Association and state trial lawyers association testified against it.
Watt said that some law enforcers don't want people to have the right to defend themselves because that takes away from police authority. He called their opposition to his bill a "load of bull."
"Cops can't be everywhere all the time. By the time they get to the scene of a crime, the crime is already done and you're dead," he said.
Legal experts say that "duty to retreat" statutes requiring people to avoid potentially deadly confrontations are based on English common law dating back to the reign of King Henry VIII. The idea that "duty to retreat" doesn't apply in a person's home is based on another common law principle often called the "Castle Doctrine," which established the right to use deadly force against intruders in your home.