Bill allowing use of deadly force in self defense, gets bipartisan support in Senate

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol reporter

A self-defense bill supporters argue simply expands the ground on which good people can defend themselves and critics depict as a legal invitation to summary executions passed the Senate Thursday, Feb. 23.

Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, saw her bill, the Defense of Dwelling and Person Act, pass on a bipartisan 40 to 23 vote.

“This bill is about the good folks,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, a former county sheriff, at a Capitol press conference.

Hoffman styled her legislation as dealing with the use of deadly force, not a gun bill.

While acknowledging some law enforcement officials object to it, Hoffman indicated she had tried to take into account their concerns.

“There’s not much more I can do,” she said, speaking at Capitol press conference.

Hoffman’s legislation does a number of things.

Besides placing restrictions on the confiscation of firearms by law enforcement in times of emergencies — a provision suggested to her by events in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Hoffman said — it requires state officials to honor concealed carry gun permits issued in other states as long as the permits remain valid in the jurisdiction where issued.

In use of deadly force, the bill allows defenders to meet perceived threats by applying superior force until the threat has been neutralized.

Defenders would no longer be obligated to retreat under the bill — they could stand and hold their ground.

Hoffman, who lives in rural area, personalized the provision by saying as a woman in her 50s she cannot reasonably be expected to sprint into her house from her yard if attacked by a 20-year-old male.

Further, the bill creates the legal presumption an individual using deadly force has a “reasonable belief” that imminent threat of substantial bodily harm or death to themselves or others exists.

In a criminal trial, the state has the burden of proof to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant’s self-defense actions were not justified.

Hoffman amended the bill on the Senate floor to strengthen language that the reasonable belief provision was not applicable in cases involving law enforcement officers.

Self-defense standards applicable in the home would extend to cars, hotel room, campers, tents, elsewhere, under the bill.

Hoffman did not dispute suggestions that the bill’s applicability would extend into schools, churches, or even onto park benches.

The legislation sparked the longest debate on the Senate floor so far this session.

Area Democratic senators were highly critical.

Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, styled the legislation “the most aggressive bill for gun rights in the United States.”

“What the bill does is promote vigilante justice,” she said. “This is just unbelievably crazy,” said Goodwin.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, arose and apologized to the experts, those in law enforcement, on behalf of the Senate for ignoring their expertise.

Law enforcement associations, such as the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, oppose the bill.

Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, former St. Paul Police Chief, styled the legislation a threat to police officers and the public.

“Killing people should be the last resort,” said Harrington.

Police officers are always trained to use the minimum amount of force in responding to force, Harrington said.

The bill is an invitation to escalation, he said.

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, an attorney, said the bill reduces the idea of reasonable action in judging self defense actions to a highly subjective standard existing solely in one person’s mind.

“No matter how skittish they may be,” said Latz, citing a scenario of a frightened person shooting through a tent wall at a shadow — the shadow of a camper coming back from the bathroom who got lost.

The bill invited responses out of proportion to threat, he said.

“If someone is trying to take your wallet, they do not deserve to be killed,” Latz said.

But Republicans on the Senate floor stood to defend the bill.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said the bill would not introduce a wholly subjective quality to self defense.

The reasonable person standard would still apply, he said.

That is, courts will continue to judge self-defense actions with an eye towards what would a reasonable person do under the circumstances, Chamberlain said.

Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said her support as grounded in basic constitutional principles.

“Nothing will convince me the Second Amendment should be anything but a meaningful right,” she said.

Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, said  dire predictions were heard back when the legislature passed concealed carry legislation.

The streets would run red with blood, Kruse said it was predicted.

“It hasn’t happened,” he said.

Further, Kruse read part of an email from a Coon Rapids Police Department officer who said not all law enforcement officers oppose the legislation.

Kruse did not give the lieutenant’s name.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, emotionally spoke of a night when his wife was afraid to go to the garage alone and he accompanied her. As he stepped into the yard, he heard a scream and saw his wife spilling out of the garage.

Going to investigate, he found a man lurking in the shadows — an intruder who fled, Nienow said.

“The onus is on the every day, law abiding citizens,” he said of needing to justify acts of self defense.

That’s wrong, Nienow said.

But bill opponents said that as bad as some of cases cited of good people being victimized are, the acts of self defense the good citzens could have used are already permissible under existing state laws.

Four Greater Minnesota state senators — Saxhaug, Skoe, Sparks and Tomassoni —  voted with Republicans to pass the bill.

A conference committee between House and Senate could take place before a final bill reaches the desk of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Although Dayton has not flatly stated that he will veto the legislation, Dayton has indicated he would have trouble supporting a bill law enforcement opposed.