Bill to expand gun laws passes Minn., House committeeA bill that would expand the rights of people to use deadly force to defend themselves if they feel they are in imminent danger passed a House public safety committee Thursday despite opposition from some law enforcement, including an assistant police chief who called one provision "a recipe for disaster."
By: Amy Forliti, Associated Press
ST. PAUL — A bill that would expand the rights of people to use deadly force to defend themselves if they feel they are in imminent danger passed a House public safety committee Thursday despite opposition from some law enforcement, including an assistant police chief who called one provision "a recipe for disaster."
Rep. Tony Cornish, a Good Thunder Republican and the bill's author, said the legislation gives a person in a home, car, tent or other dwelling the legal right to decide how much force should be required to defend oneself.
"This bill does not allow you to kill somebody without reason," he said.
The measure passed by a 10-7 vote after some debate. The room in the State Office Building was packed with both opponents and supporters of the bill. They wore stickers with the message "Stop 'Shoot First'" and buttons reading "Self defense is a human right" — depending on their causes.
After the hearing, Cornish told reporters: "In Minnesota, conservative Republicans and forward thinkers don't believe in waiting for a tragedy to act."
The bill now heads to the House judiciary committee.
Supporters of the measure say it allows law-abiding citizens to stand their ground. Those against the bill call it confusing and overly broad.
Also, opponents say, the measure is based on the "subjective" opinion of a person acting in self-defense rather than what a "reasonable person" would do. And they say it would allow deadly force even if someone enters a home by mistake.
"I find no common sense at all about this bill," Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, said before the vote.
Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said it's his duty as a father and husband to protect his family and that the bill would deter criminals.
"Don't break into a house and you're not going to get hurt," he said. "It's a novel idea."
Under current law, a person may use deadly force in self-defense when that person reasonably believes there is a threat of great bodily harm or death, or to prevent a felony in one's "place of abode." Cornish's bill would expand the definition of a dwelling to include homes, overnight accommodations, cars, boats and tents.
It also clarifies that an individual does not have a duty to retreat from a threatening situation and presumes that a person who uses deadly force has a reasonable belief of imminent threat.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said the current law is adequate, allowing a person to use deadly force without retreating in the home. When not at home, a person can rightfully use deadly force if he or she also makes an attempt to avoid the threat.
He said with no duty to retreat, dangerous criminals and gang members could be justified in killing someone on the street.
"Do we really want, as a society, to allow a driver who believes he's being threatened with substantial harm in a road rage incident to shoot and kill the other driver rather than calling 911 or simply driving away?" Backstrom said.
Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, said that while the measure doesn't allow someone to shoot an officer, police often go to homes uninvited and out of uniform and sometimes enter using "force or stealth."
"Unfortunately this law creates a scenario where we are going to have officers hurt, or perhaps, God forbid, killed," Flaherty said.
Ken Reed, assistant police chief in St. Paul, said expanding the definition of a "dwelling" to include places where kids play, delivery people work and meter readers do their jobs is "a recipe for disaster and a safety issue for our citizens."
But not all in law enforcement were opposed.
Mankato public safety director Todd Miller supported the bill. He said because of cutbacks, he can't promise citizens that police would arrive to a situation in time to protect them. He said citizens also have a responsibility to keep the community safe.
The bill has 35 co-sponsors, including a handful of Democrats. There was no companion bill in the Senate, but Cornish said one was being introduced. A similar bill was rejected in committee in 2008.
Gov. Mark Dayton hasn't seen the legislation.
The measure addresses other gun rights issues as well. Among them, it would require Minnesota to recognize permits to carry issued by all other states. Currently, Minnesota has reciprocity with only 15 other states with laws similar to Minnesota's.
The bill also would require information about mental health commitments to be given to the national database maintained by the FBI whenever someone applies for a permit to buy a gun. That information is currently only provided to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.