Gun bill: It's a chilling license to kill

  • Article by: SCOTT KNIGHT
  • Updated: May 10, 2011 - 10:27 PM

Photo: Associated Press, AP

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Minnesota lawmakers will soon have an opportunity to signal whether they support the public's interests or a narrow special interest. We should watch closely as they cast their votes on HF1467, a bill only the gun lobby could love.


While proponents portray the bill's primary provision as an expansion of the right to self-defense, law enforcement overwhelmingly opposes it as a threat to officer and public safety. In too many instances, it is a license to kill.

Americans resonate to the clarion call of "the Castle Doctrine," the long-held belief stemming from British common law that a person's home is his or her castle, and that people are justified in taking whatever measures might be necessary in protecting hearth and family.

No one argues against this established right.

But Minnesota law already allows for the use of deadly force, without an obligation to retreat, in order to prevent danger within the home.

While there are those who disingenuously suggest that current Minnesota law does not ensure this right, no one has ever been prosecuted under Minnesota statute for legitimate self-defense.

The proposed legislation extends the Castle Doctrine beyond the home to the outer reaches of a person's property, and, far more dangerously, takes it out to the public domain -- the sidewalk and beyond -- where shooting to kill becomes justified if the shooter "reasonably" feels threatened.

The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs Association and the County Attorneys' Association all oppose the bill.

Testimony outlined how it would have a dangerous effect on law enforcement's ability to protect the public and to prosecute criminal behavior.

If the proposed bill becomes law, for example, there would be nothing to prevent one gang member from shooting another and claiming immunity because of having felt threatened by a rival.

This bill encourages escalating conflict. It sanctions shooting when there is a threat of substantial harm, allows the shooter to continue shooting until the danger is "eliminated," and frees the shooter of all civil or criminal liability for innocent bystanders who get shot.

As Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said in his testimony in opposition to the bill: "It creates a subjective standard of the reasonableness of a person's actions in using deadly force, rather than the objective standard in current law.

In other words, the issue becomes what is in the mind of the person using deadly force rather than how a reasonable person would have reacted under the same circumstances."

Who will gainsay the shooter who claims reasonable threat if the only other witness to the shooting is now dead?

Backstrom quotes a former president of the National District Attorneys' Association who said that these "shoot first/ask questions later" laws being pushed by the gun lobby in one state after another "basically give citizens more rights to use deadly force than we give police officers, and with less review."

And, it should be said, without the training a police officer receives.

Other provisions of the proposed omnibus gun bill currently making its way through the Legislature, while somewhat less extreme than the "shoot first" component, also weaken law enforcement's ability to keep firearms out of the wrong hands.

•  The bill would increase the period between renewals for permits-to-purchase from one year to five, thereby increasing the possibility that a permit holder who commits a crime will continue to pose a public danger.

•  It would give reciprocity to permit-to-carry holders from other states, even if those other states had considerably lower background check or training requirements.

• It would make it more difficult for law enforcement to remove firearms from homes where domestic violence is occurring.

It will be sad if lawmakers' votes are determined by a misreading of their constituents' views and a misplaced homage to the most extreme fringe of the NRA.

Yes, there are a lot of gun owners in Minnesota, but most of them want the same reasonable safeguards for their families as do those who don't own guns.

And the gun lobby's power is no greater than lawmakers' willingness to give in to their pressure. Once lawmakers refuse to be bullied, the gun lobby will lose its influence.

Scott Knight is chief of the Chaska Police Department and is past president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

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