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Missouri lawmakers discuss ‘stand your ground’ law

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican running for attorney general, sponsored the “stand your ground” legislation heard by a Missouri Senate committee on Wednesday.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican running for attorney general, sponsored the “stand your ground” legislation heard by a Missouri Senate committee on Wednesday. jhancock@kcstar.com

Missouri would become the first state in five years to enact a “stand your ground” law under a bill heard Wednesday in a state Senate committee.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican, would allow a person to use deadly force in self-defense without the duty to retreat when faced with a reasonable perceived threat.

Schaefer, who is running for Missouri attorney general, told the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee the bill simply expands the “castle doctrine,” which says a person can use force, including deadly force, to defend themselves at home or on their property.

But when that person is in public, current law states that they have a duty to at least try to retreat.

Schaefer said his goal is to allow people to defend themselves without worrying about future legal ramifications.

“You’re going to do whatever you need to do if your safety is in jeopardy,” Schaefer said. “The question is, what happens in the lawsuit after that? Are you going to be faced with liability after that?”

Kerry Messer of Missourians for Personal Safety said it’s “bad enough to be victimized, but even worse if you’re dragged through a legal quagmire because you tried to defend yourself.”

“If you’re the victim of a potential crime,” he said, “you’re still a victim.”

“Stand your ground” laws have been controversial for years. But they got national attention in 2012 when George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager.

Martin was wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of Skittles. Zimmerman said he shot and killed him because he feared great bodily harm or death, and he was ultimately acquitted by a jury.

Martin’s name was invoked during Wednesday’s hearing by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a University City Democrat. A person must have the right to defend themselves, she said, but she worries about a “one-size-fits-all solution.”

“If it’s a possible rape, I get that,” she said. “If you’re walking home with Skittles, I don’t get that.”

Sen. Kiki Curls, a Kansas City Democrat, said the color of a person’s skin can often affect whether that person is viewed as threatening.

“This bill scares me,” she said. “The threat is sometimes more perceived than real, based on how that person looks.” 

Becky Morgan, a volunteer for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said “stand your ground” laws result in increased homicide rates by promoting a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality.

A study by researchers at Texas A&M found “significant evidence that (stand your ground) laws lead to more homicides.” Homicide rates in states with “stand your ground” laws increased around 8 percent, the study found.

The committee took no action on the bill Wednesday morning. The “stand your ground” law is only one of a spate of gun bills being considered by lawmakers this year, ranging from permitting concealed carry of a firearm on public university campuses to creating a lifetime permit for concealed carry.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock

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