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Use of deadly force in self-defense debated in House committee hearing

Making it easier for law-abiding Minnesotans to understand self-defense is the goal of a controversial bill.

Sponsored by Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia), HF238, as amended, would provide Minnesotans greater rights to use deadly force while defending themselves or their home.

It was held over Wednesday by the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion. Its companion, SF292, sponsored by Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

Current law allows someone to use deadly force to resist or prevent an offense when they “reasonably believe” the offense exposes them “to great bodily harm or death” or prevents the commission of a felony at their residence.

Scott Rausch, state legislative liaison for the National Rifle Association, said it’s a fundamental right to defend one’s self and their property.

The so-called “Defense of Dwelling and Person Act of 2017,” would justify the use of deadly force to resist or prevent:

  • the commission of a felony in the individual’s dwelling;
  • what the individual reasonably believes is an offense or attempted offense that imminently exposes the individual or another person to substantial bodily harm, great bodily harm or death; or
  • what the individual reasonably believes is the commission or imminent commission of a forcible felony.

“The bill removes the duty to retreat requirement from Minnesota law,” Nash said in a packed committee hearing room. “The idea of duty to retreat is not part of statutory law in Minnesota. It is the result of court cases and exists, like most of our self-defense law, only in case law. A law-abiding citizen not engaged in criminal behavior in a public place should not be forced to retreat prior to being able to defend themselves.”

Rep. Jim Nash comments on HF238, which would clarify the use of force in defense of home and person, during a March 8 House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee hearing on two gun-related bills. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Under this bill, he added, a person must be a reluctant participant, meaning that they could not have been provoked or initiated the situation.

Deadly force would not be permitted against peace officers involved in lawful conduct; however, fear exists how this would affect those in law enforcement, especially when dealing with someone having mental health issues.

Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, shared a story of St. Paul cops announcing their presence, yet were met with gunfire when they went through the door.

“Our concern is officer safety and the threat this poses to all cops,” he said.

Nash said similar laws exist in 33 other states, and that in 2004 former President Barack Obama, than an Illinois senator, supported an expansion of that state’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” law.

Rep. Jim Newberger (R-Becker) said members are required, under an oath to take office, to support the United States Constitution. “Part of the highest law of the land is the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Chauntyll Allen, a member of Black Lives Matter in St. Paul, fears the bill would be detrimental, especially for immigrants and communities of color. “Passing a bill like this will create an open-season purge on our community. Passing a bill like this will create mayhem in our streets. … Stand Your Ground is just another way for people to get away with murder.”

Chauntyll Allen with Black Lives Matter St. Paul testifies against HF238, sponsored by Rep. Jim Nash, left, which would, in part, clarify the use of force in defense of home and person law. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom is among bill opponents. He said current laws are “adequate” to protect law-abiding citizens when it comes to self-defense and should not be expanded.

“One of the most significant changes that this would bring is that it creates a subjective standard of the reasonableness of a person’s actions in using deadly force, rather than the objective standard under current law. … This law would allow a person to shoot first and ask later whenever they believe they’re exposed to substantial harm regardless of how a reasonable person would have responded.”

This was the second of two gun-related bills heard Wednesday by the committee; HF188 would eliminate the permit requirement to carry a firearm.

“I’m kind of ashamed to be a representative and having to hear these types of bills when I believe there are much, much more important bills to deal with the safety of citizens in Minnesota,” said Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-Mpls).




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