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Should the state change gun laws to expand the right to self-defense? (Wrap-up of 5/9-5/13 online debate)

Posted at 12:55 PM on May 13, 2011 by Michael Caputo

Retreat and review. Those two words kept rising up during a debate on a gun law proposal in the Minnesota legislature that expands the use of deadly force in self defense.

And perhaps another "r" word - respect - fueled this discussion around the bill that would change the definition of self-defense with a gun in our state.

I'll explain what I mean in this wrap-up of our Insight Now online debate (which, of course, we also invite you to view in full by going to the links below).

Retreat - A widening zone

Perhaps the biggest shift in this bill would be to repeal the "duty to retreat." Erik Pakieser, a firearms training instructor who argued for passage of the measure, explained that current law does not require you to retreat from an attack in your home.
"If you are not inside your home (for example: in your front yard) retreat is required. This proposal would extend your rights to your garage, vehicle, yard, or any place where you are going about lawful business.
This is what worries those opposing the bill, including Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, who is lobbying against the measure. She wondered, would we condone having a policy of "no retreat" at places like bars? Or like sporting events? Or at a camp site? What about a clash on the highway, she asked - the idea of road rage turning deadly?

Some in the discussion gave examples of instances when a "duty to retreat" would result in harm to a victim - including one moment that made news this week. Relaxing the retreat provision for lawful gunowners would allow them to fully defend themselves.

And, said Pakieser, firearms instructors would still counsel students that getting away from an escalating scene is always the best approach.

Review - Who makes the call?

A more thorny discussion centered around a provision in the bill that shifts the burden of proof in a self-defense shooting from the accused to the prosecution.

The question raised: Just who makes the call when a shooter has acted reasonably and in self-defense? This was framed in the online debate by Bill in a couple of different places in the thread. He pointed to the clause in the proposal that gives the rightful shooter "immunity" from prosecution and that doesn't allow police to immediately bring the shooter into custody for questioning. That would make investigating harder.

"(W)ho says 'ok, you've done things according to the law, (you are) free to go?' If you can't be arrested, chances are you're not going to be charged with a crime. If you aren't going to be charged with a crime you won't see a judge.
Pat said that many of the standards now used to judge a self-defense shooting remain unchanged for police and the courts. This just takes the onus off of the person trying to protect person and family.

"The claim of self-defense has always been, and always will be, open to review by the courts and a criminal investigation," Pakieser said.

And, speaking of review, this law gives much greater allowance for the review of gun permits by other states. Minnesota would now recognize the permits to carry a gun from other states just as it recognizes licenses to drive a car.

Amos said that he's not comfortable with the driver's license analogy because gun permit laws vary so widely.


As I mentioned, respect was the undercurrent throughout... respect for safety, respect for constitutional rights.

But the one that really grips you is the respect shown by participants for what motivated them in this debate - family, loved ones. It's easy to see in just two entries, one describing why he carries a gun and another from someone whowould never carry one.

That's what I see ... what about you?

THE DEBATE IN FULL - The Assertion: The state should reject a proposal that would expand the right to use deadly force in self defense.

Monday: Opening Statements

Tuesday: Rebuttals

Wednesday: Rebuttals

Thursday: Closing Statements

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