Legislature takes aim at self-defense measures

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, April 30, 2011

A bill that would expand the state’s law on the use of deadly force in cases of self-defense has passed a House public safety committee on a 10-7 vote.

Among other things, it creates a presumption that anyone who forcefully or stealthily enters a home intends to cause harm, so deadly force is allowed.

Sheriff Terese Amazi said she has issues with a few components of the bill, but she supports the portion regarding self-defense.

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“My concern would be if you have a visitor who comes into your home unknown — that would be not so good,” she said. “But certainly I support anything that says you can protect yourself in your own home.”

Thursday’s hearing drew testimony on both sides — with members of law enforcement split on the issue. Ken Reed, St. Paul Police Department assistant chief, called it a “recipe for disaster.”

Those against the bill say it would allow deadly force even if someone enters a home by mistake and is unarmed. Some are also concerned about law enforcement officers serving warrants.

Amazi said the worries are legitimate, but officers usually announce their presence when serving a warrant, even if they don’t knock.

Some believe people’s fears over the use of deadly force are unfounded. Milan Hart, owner of the Hart Bros. Weaponry in Albert Lea, said gun control advocates raised a similar furor over the state’s conceal and carry bill.

“Everybody thought it was going to turn into Dodge City, and it never happened,” Hart said. “The idea that people are just going to shoot people just isn’t going to happen.”

Hart believes the law’s current stance, which he said would have owners abandon their homes to whomever was breaking in, shouldn’t be in effect.

“I shouldn’t have to leave my home and let a criminal factor take over,” Hart said.

One component of the bill would require Minnesota to recognize a permit-to-carry from another state. Amazi said this is risky, because some states don’t require training when a person obtains a permit-to-carry.

“That would be very concerning,” she said.

Republicans and gun-rights groups are promoting the bill as an easy call.

“It’s a common-sense bill,”’ said its chief sponsor, state Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder.

Others aren’t so sure. Many critics said the existing law, which requires people using deadly force to believe they otherwise would suffer “great bodily harm or death,”’ offers enough protection.

“It says, ‘If you don’t have to kill somebody, you are not entitled to,’” said Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, who contended such a law could have allowed a then-aide to former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s presidential exploratory committee to be shot and killed recently for mistakenly entering an Iowa home after a night of drinking.

The bill’s next stop is the House judiciary committee.

— Amanda Lillie and Trey Mewes contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.