Bill expands ‘deadly force’ rights

A bill expanding Minnesotans’ rights to defend their homes split the law enforcement community before it received Thursday approval in a state House committee.

“We like to refer to it as a self-defense bill,” said Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, a police chief wearing his usual handcuff lapel pin.

Current law requires a person to retreat from a home invader before using deadly force such as a gun. The Cornish bill specifically says that a person does not need to retreat before shooting a home invader and would allow deadly force if a person “honestly and in good faith believes” the force is required for defense.

The House public safety committee approved the bill 10-7 along party lines with Republicans for it and Democrats against it. It must go through other committees before reaching a full House vote. There is no Senate equivalent to the bill, and if it does not pass this year the bill will remain active next year.

Besides allowing greater freedom in defending oneself, the bill restricts law enforcement officers from confiscating firearms from suspected criminals. The bill also requires Minnesota to honor gun permits issued by other states.

“It is a bill long overdue,” Cornish said of expanding self-defense provisions.

Cornish produced a police chief and former prosecutor to support his bill.

“You are going to be told this if a shoot-first bill,” ex-prosecutor David Gross of Faribault said. “That’s a lie. This bill does not suspend … the requirement that a person act reasonably and upon a factual basis.”

However, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom told the committee that current law “adequately protects our law-abiding citizens.”

Backstrom said the provision that eliminates the requirement that a person retreat before using deadly force could allow a homeowner to shoot and kill a teen-ager who broke into a garage to steal a bicycle.

“Such a law would, in essence, allow a person to shoot first and ask questions later,” Backstrom said.

Police and sheriff’s association leaders said they disagree with several parts of the Cornish bill.

Dennis Flaherty of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association said his group is concerned about a provision extending permits to purchase guns from one to five years.

Police now can confiscate guns and hold them indefinitely, which Flaherty supports. The Cornish bill requires guns to be taken away from suspects, but in most cases need to be returned quickly.

Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said as a father and husband, he feels a need to defend his family. “I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do anything. … If they are in my house, they are not supposed to be there.”

Kriesel added: “Don’t break into a house and you are not going to get hurt.”

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