JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – A state senator running for attorney general wants Missouri to expand its “stand your ground” laws to make it easier for people to use deadly force in self-defense.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia, told a Senate panel Wednesday that people should be able to do whatever it takes to defend themselves without worrying about a lawsuit afterward.
People who feel threatened while walking alone in a parking lot or down an alley, for instance, are already going to protect themselves, Schaefer said. “The question is: What happens in a lawsuit, in a prosecution after that?” he said.
Current law allows people to use deadly force if they believe it is necessary to protect themselves from a serious or fatal injury or against a forcible felony. Otherwise, people are expected to withdraw from confrontational situations which is called a “duty to retreat” unless they are in a home, car or other private property. Schaefer’s proposal would eliminate the duty to retreat for people who are in public places or on property where they are legally permitted.
Sen. Kiki Curls said there is a racial component to this issue that needs to be addressed.
“That threat sometimes is more perceived than real, depending on who the person is or how that person looks,” said Curls, a Democrat from Kansas City.
Expanding such laws creates a “shoot first, ask questions later culture,” said Becky Morgan, a leader of the Missouri chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which opposes the bill.
Florida’s “stand your ground” law came under scrutiny after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman fatally shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the case, and while “stand your ground” was not directly mentioned in the trial, the law was included in the jury instructions.
Schaefer warned against drawing broad conclusions from individual incidents.
“Every circumstance is different,” he said. “And the question always is, in any circumstance like that: What was reasonable?” he said.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal said she doesn’t want to see any more unarmed black teenagers killed, but she also sees how the proposal could protect black people who might otherwise have a hard time overcoming police suspicion after a violent confrontation.
“If I’m protecting myself as a black woman, I don’t want to be put in jail for protecting myself or my children,” said Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat from University City, adding that she’s concerned Schaefer’s proposal might be too sweeping.
Thirty-three states had “stand your ground” laws by statute or case law in 2014, according to a 2015 report by the American Bar Association. That report classified Missouri as a state without such a law, even though people on private property have no duty to retreat.
The Senate committee heard testimony but took no vote on Schaefer’s bill Wednesday. Senators are also considering bills that would allow people to carry concealed weapons onto college campuses and public transportation.
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