If you’ve read this blog before, you’ve read this bit at least once.
In Minnesota, if you choose and need to defend yourself or your family with lethal force, you must meet all four of the following criteria:
- You can’t be a willing participant in the struggle: you can’t dive into a fist-fight and then shoot your way out of it.
- You must reasonably fear death or “great bodily harm”: That means “a jury’s gotta buy it”.
- The force you use must be reasonable under the circumstances: If the police come to your house to find a body with no knife or gun, but clutching your TV, Tivo and monitor, you might have trouble with this one.
- And finally, You must make every reasonable means to de-escalate the confrontation: That meansyou must back away from the altercation. In the home, that means you have to try to back away. There are limits, of course; if you are in a wheelchair, you’re not expected to develop superhuman strength and agility; if it’s -40 outside and there’s a howling wind and you have an infant, no jury and few prosecutors would fault you for shooting; if you have kids sleeping upstairs and your abusive ex-spouse has come through the door with a chainsaw, backing away is a very relative thing.
This last one is one of the most confusing. Does it mean, assuming that you got parts 1-3 right, that you:
- can defend yourself in your house, but not in your garage?
- must retreat from the first floor to the second floor?
- must – barring any other people in the house or other circumstances – back into the far corner of your house before you shoot?
- can’t defend yourself if a rapist catches you on the patio or in the far corner of the back yard?
- are legally vulnerable to a zillion other situational permutations?
The answer – as for so many of life’s persistent questions – is “it depends”. In this case, it depends on the zeal of your county prosecutor; if you have a zealous one who hates citizen self-defense (like Amy Klobuchar was, or Sue Gaertner is), that translates to “big legal bills” at best, prison time and a lifetime in civil court at worst.
Solving that – removing some of the vagaries of defending ones’ own home against a serious threat covered by all four of the criteria above – is the point of an eminently sensible bill introduced in the Minnesota House by Rep. Tony Cornish (R, naturally, Good Thunder) that would, as I read it, clarify that corner of Minnesota’s self-defense law.
Naturally, since it empowers real people against criminals, the Strib opposes it, for reasons that are stupid and misleading even by the Strib Editorial Board’s standards.
Oh, it starts out with the truth.
Well, at least conveniently-redacted bit of it:
It’s one of the most frightening scenarios imaginable: While enjoying the sanctity of your own home, intruders break in. When that happens, shouldn’t you have every right to defend yourself?
Under current Minnesota laws, you can.
Which is true, in the same sense that I “can” get a date with Scarlett Johannsen. The devil – or, in this case, the “long prison term” – is in the details.
Minnesota statutes already indemnify citizens from criminal charges if they wound or kill an intruder inside their home.
I’m no lawyer (and either is Joel Rosenberg, but I’ll page him anyway, since he both wrote the book and taught my concealed carry class), but that indemnification is subject to your shooting being legally justified – and that fourth criterion, “backing away”, is so legally ambiguous and open to so much interpretation.
Hence, the Strib is being technically accurate, but literally misleading.
However, a proposed change would allow the use of deadly force in a garage, a deck, a porch or an occupied car.
The revision would give citizens more legal leeway to shoot or kill anyone they perceive as a threat. On the street or any other public place, there would no longer be an obligation to try to avoid trouble before using a gun in self defense.
This, however, isn’t even technically accurate. You’ll still have to “avoid trouble”; see condition #1, above. The trouble still has to come to you, and not go away when asked. Cornish’s bill merely makes the fourth criterion, “backing away” or “disengaging”, less legally ambiguous and prone to the prosecutor’s caprice.
And the proposal would lower the standard for firing from fear of “great” harm to fear of “substantial” harm.
I’d like to know if the Strib editorial writer knows the difference between the two.
It’s not an obtuse question; indeed, both terms have legal definitions. And it’s a legal technicality (where “Technicality” means “term of technique or art” rather that “niggling obtusion”) that can put people in jail – people who otherwise met every criterion for self-defense, but whose prosecutors were able to convince a jury that the threat they faced, under duress, was only of “substatial” rather than “great” bodily harm. If someone’s swinging a razor blade rather than a butcher knife, should it mean the difference between freedom and prison?
Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, recently introduced the measure, arguing that it’s a logical extension of current law. Minnesotans should not “have to be lawyers,” he says, to determine whether and how they can protect themselves. He contends his bill would give armed law-abiding citizens confidence that they wouldn’t be prosecuted for using deadly force.
This is a classic case of proposed legislation in search of a problem. Neither Cornish nor local law enforcement can cite a single case of people wrongly jailed in this state for killing in self defense.
We have to wait until an honest, law-abiding citizen shoots a scumbag in his backyard rather than try to flee to his back porch? Or because someone doesn’t try to run upstairs rather than shoot a charging attacker?
How many honest, law-abiding citizens’ lives and freedoms must be sacrificed to feed the Strib’s need to…keep the law vague?
Around the country, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is promoting such extensions of the so-called “Castle Doctrine,” laws that protect people who use firearms to defend themselves in their homes. NRA leaders believe the laws are needed to prevent crime victims from being prosecuted or jailed. In the last two years, 20 states have enacted laws that allow people to shoot first and ask questions later, if they catch a criminal in their homes.
And here, the Strib descends from “technically accurate” to “lying through its’ filthy teeth”.
In no case can a citizen legally “shoot first and ask questions later”.
Each of those twenty laws merely enables a citizen to shoot without first being required to attempt to flee.
That is all.
The writer is lying.
Nationally and in Minnesota, county attorneys and major police associations rightly oppose that approach.
“Major police associations” are controlled by major-city cops, who are pretty universally beholden to the Tic party. They are nothing but reliable quotes for anti-gun editorial writers.
And stop the presses – “county attorneys” oppose legislation that removes their discretion! Who’da thunk it?
Still, those statements are merely dumb. The rest of this editorial is almost too venally untruthful to be called a mere “lie”; indeed, it looks as if the Strib is farming out their editorial writing to Wes Skoglund:
Giving people carte blanche can encourage vigilantes and promote even more gunplay while weakening police powers. According to a state police official, it’s unreasonable to support laws that give citizens more authority to use force than cops.
Which is a lie for which the conveniently-anonymous “state police official” should be sanctioned. Cornish’s law doesn’t change the standards for self-defense; it merely clarifies them. Police standards for self-defense are vastly looser, and remain that way.
Extending the right to shoot an intruder in a garage, for example, sets the stage for spilling blood or taking a life over property.
Only if the law is amended to cover property! Until then, the four criteria for self defense – all four! – must be met to a standard that’ll convince a jury!
But the only rationale for employing force that can kill is protection of life and limb. It is indeed a slippery slope when the law could condone killing someone over the theft of a bicycle.
Only if prosecutors and juries lose the ability to discern what is a “threat of death or substantial bodily harm”.
Another unintended consequence could be giving legal cover to real criminals. The proposed legislation would eliminate the duty to retreat and avoid danger if reasonably possible. Prosecutors say that means crimes committed during bar fights or gang shootouts could become more difficult to prove.
Editorial writer! Slapnuts! See the first criterion! One can not be a willing participant for self-defense to be legal
Nothing in Cornish’s bill changes that!
A House subcommittee chairman has promised to give the Cornish proposal a hearing this session. But the deadly force change should not advance beyond that stage. Under current gun laws, Minnesotans already have enough legal protection to defend themselves at home or anywhere else.
Provided they have the money to work a judge, prosecutor and jury through all the technicalities.
The Strib; telling the convenient half of the story, when it fits.