Friday, April 29, 2011

Feel free to shoot first II

Update: Be sure to read the comment thread.

Tony Cornish's Shoot First bill got a hearing yesterday, and as expected, it passed out of his committee. Here is a photo of a proponent of the bill taken by a Strib photographer at the hearing:

This is proof that a guy can masturbate with his clothes on. (I mean, really, does this guy look like he can actually reach around his back and get his gun, anyway?)

Much of the commentary surrounding this NRA-sponsored bill is about the poster child for legislation like this: home invasions. In an interview given prior to the hearing, and while sitting in his Capitol office among his collection of dead animals, Cornish himself used the home invasion as the justification for the bill. Here's the WCCO interview.

Cornish cites the case of a woman in St. Paul who called the police about an intruder, but was raped before the police arrived. "Can't rape a .38," Tony Cornish says.

But it's a dead red herring. The so-called Castle Doctrine already exists in Minnesota. One of the things this NRA beauty does, though, is permit you to take the Castle Doctrine on the road, and not merely in your car, either. Here are the circumstances in the Cornish bill when deadly force is authorized:
    Subd. 2. Circumstances when authorized. (a) The use of deadly force by an individual is justified under this section when the act is undertaken: (1) to resist or prevent the commission of a felony in the individual's dwelling; (2) to resist or prevent 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 (3) to resist or prevent what the individual reasonably believes is the commission or imminent commission of a forcible felony. 
(b) The use of deadly force is not authorized under this section if the individual knows that the person against whom force is being used is a licensed peace officer from this state, another state, the United States, or any subordinate jurisdiction of the United States, who is acting lawfully.
 Note that condition (1) is tied to an individual's dwelling; the other two conditions are not. Condition (1) is the Castle Doctrine; conditions (2) and (3) permit you to take the doctrine on the road. We'll come back to home invasions later. But let's take Shoot First out for a spin first.

What makes conditions (2) and (3) especially dangerous is the next section of the bill:
    Subd. 3. Degree of force; retreat. An individual taking defensive action pursuant to subdivision 2 [that's the one quoted above] may use all force and means, including deadly force, that the individual honestly and in good faith believes is required to succeed in defense. The individual may meet force with superior force when the individual's objective is defensive; the individual is not required to retreat; and the individual may continue defensive actions against an assailant until the danger is eliminated.
This is the part of the bill closest to the heart of the NRA; that's why gun enthusiasts call the bill "stand your ground." But it's not only your ground; it's somebody else's ground, too. Whether they asked you or not. Plainly, this is a call to vigilantism. Consider:

You are standing on line at the bank. In the line next to you, a person says to the teller, "Fill this with $100 bills; I've got a gun." The guy (because it almost certainly will be a guy) behind you yells, "Freeze suckah!" and pulls a gun. The robber wheels, but the hero behind you gets off a premature shot before the robber pumps a couple of rounds into the would-be vigilante's chest.

Unfortunately, our hero's round severs your spine, perhaps high enough that you can't even breathe on your own for the rest of your tortured life. Our hero is dead, so he's beyond caring, but you've got legal recourse against the hero's estate, to help you pay for electricity for your respirator, don't you?

Or consider this:

Your neighbor sees somebody breaking into your house, a really scary guy. Rather than call the cops -- Rep. Cornish mocks a call to the police in the video linked above -- or even calling you, your neighbor squeezes off a round at the burglar. But your neighbor isn't much of a shot, and he drinks a little to boot; his shot goes wide and kills your child as she sleeps. Certainly, you can recover something against your neighbor for her wrongful death, right?

And finally, here's one more:

Two guys are in a bar and get into an argument. They aren't supposed to have guns in a bar, but never mind, they do. Neither will back down (retreat), and the argument escalates when one of them starts to pull his gun. The second man is quicker, though, and reasonably fearing for his life, pulls his gun and shoots the first guy. The bullet passes through him and kills you. Your family can certainly sue to help pay the bills after you're gone, right?

The answer to all three questions is found in another section of the act:
   Subd. 5. Criminal investigation; immunity from prosecution. (a) An individual who uses force, including deadly force, according to this section or as otherwise provided by law in defense of the individual, the individual's dwelling, or another individual is justified in using such force and is immune from any civil liability [emphasis is mine] or criminal prosecution for that act. 
(b) A law enforcement agency may arrest an individual using force under circumstances described in this section only after considering any claims or circumstances supporting self-defense or lawful defense of another individual.
Aw, you say, that can't be right; there can't be immunity from civil liability in the scenarios you mention. But there is. Regardless of how stupid, drunken, or illegal the carrying of the gun, the bill on its face immunizes the act as long as the shooter "reasonably" believes the act is defensive of him or someone else.

Update: The reasonableness is applied to the belief, not the response.

I'll write more about home invasions in a later post.

The first post in this series is here.

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