Recent tragedies beg questions about excessive force lawsPublished 1:57pm Wednesday, December 26, 2012
In the wake of a national tragedy in Connecticut, and slaying of two Minnesota teenagers and a police officer, many people in Austin are thinking about guns and how to potentially protect themselves.
Cases such as in Little Falls, when a man allegedly executed two teenagers burglarizing his home, and even in Mower County, when two men allegedly shot at three people on their property, have people wondering when they can use excessive force.
Minnesota’s laws are different than other states, though, and sometimes people are in the wrong when they fire their weapons but think they are properly confronting an intruder. Even firing a warning shot can be a criminal offense, as the intruder may be unarmed or may not even be an intruder at all.
“The primary criteria is you have to have no avenue of escape, and you have to be in immediate threat of great bodily harm or death before you can use excessive force,” Certified firearms safety instructor Richard Finke said, referring to Minnesota Statute 609.065, which explains justifiable taking of life. “Once the threat diminishes or ceases, you have to stop with the force you are using.”
Several weeks ago, Daniel Peterson and his son, Joseph Peterson, allegedly shot at three people who drove onto their property near Lansing. According to the Mower County court complaint, Daniel fired a shot that struck the driver’s side window and hit a woman in the jaw. In their court complaints, the Petersons made references to people trespassing on their property: “All this for us trying to get people off our property,” Daniel allegedly said after he was arrested.
Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi said after the arrest that firing in that situation isn’t legal, especially because the victims were trying to drive away while allegedly being fired upon. Finke spoke briefly about the Little Falls shooting in which two teenagers died after entering a man’s home, too.
“He did everything wrong,” Finke said about that suspect.
While some people may want to fire at burglars who have entered their homes, that action must be a last resort in Minnesota.
“If they’re coming to steal your 50-inch plasma TV, you can’t use a gun to shoot them,” Finke said.
Yet decisions aren’t easy to make in such predicaments. Finke, who teaches a class in Albert Lea, extensively reviews home protection scenarios and also conceal-and-carry laws. He tells his students that in the worst situation to remember this quote: “I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by six.”
Finke has received a consistent number of calls from people inquiring about gun safety training and those who want a conceal-and-carry license. After taking Finke’s class, students can take their conceal-and-carry permit applications to their respective county government centers where they are approved by the sheriff.
Regardless, Finke encourages anybody thinking about buying a gun to get proper training.