Gun bill on shaky ground

A new bill in Minnesota has the wrong attitude on protection.

Eric Best

On its way to a final vote in the Minnesota Senate, the Minnesota Defense of Dwelling and Person Act is sure to pass with bipartisan support. This new legislation aims to redefine when property owners can use deadly force if they find their life in jeopardy, as well as expand what property can be defended with deadly force.

Under the current law, deadly force is justified when there is good reason to believe one is under threat of great bodily harm, death or severe damage to his or her  property. But anyone who uses deadly force has a legal obligation to prove that their life or property were in jeopardy. Under this legislation, innocence on the victim’s part is not inherent in the act of defending one’s property, so they must prove they were in danger.

This new legislation, however, creates the presumption that if an individual uses deadly force they must have believed their life or property were threatened. Like other states with a Castle Doctrine  and other similar “Stand Your Ground” legislation in place, “property” has been redefined to mean an individual’s temporary dwelling, car, boat and even hotel room. Thus, under the new law it will be much harder to prosecute someone who has harmed or killed an intruder.

The Act has come under fire from local law enforcement groups, stating that under this new law “officers [would be put] at greater risk.” The greatest dangers law enforcement faces in the field are situations in which individuals wield deadly force — situations that may occur more frequently now that Minnesotans can protect their car or home with firearms from threats, even if the threat they perceive is not a threat at all.

This legislation may prove more troublesome when  the government condones running to a crime, rather than away from it. As children we are all told to get away from any stranger we perceive as a threat, and I believe a similar plan of action is more appropriate when we find ourselves under attack. That car-jacker or home intruder may have deadly force as well, and even more experience using it, so it seems reasonable that we should have legislation, such as our current law, that includes language on when people should “retreat” from danger, rather than combat it, especially with deadly force.

With new definitions of what is considered property worthy of defending with deadly force, there is indirect support for people to carry around firearms and other deadly weapons on their person more often. Even in travel situations, one is supported by the new law to pack heat in his or her hotel room. Though instances arise of people being attacked in hotel rooms, or even on their boat, perhaps a modern-day pirate, such legislation allows for an attitude of mistrust and a “shoot first, ask questions later” philosophy that may spell more harm than good for Minnesotans.

More cases may arise of innocent people, perceived as criminals, being greatly harmed or killed while doing unthreatening tasks. That homeless person knocking on your window for a cheap carwash, or that drunk college student who stumbles into the wrong apartment or maybe even that overly eager Jehovah’s Witness that invites themselves inside, that you know just won’t take “no” for an answer, may all be potential threats able to be met with deadly force.

Gov. Mark Dayton cited law enforcement groups in his hesitation to sign the bill, but it is still likely to pass in the Minnesota Senate with bipartisan support nonetheless as it makes its way for a final vote.