House OKs bill expanding deadly force rights

Republicans supported expanding the right to use deadly force during rare Saturday night debate, but opponents claimed the bill could create Minnesota murderers who could not be prosecuted.

The bill passed 79-50, with some rural Democrats joining Republicans voting “yes.”

“If you murder somebody, you have more protections under this than if you shoot a bear or shoot somebody’s property,” Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis, said. “This isn’t the Minnesota I grew up in.”

The bill’s sponsor said he amended his original proposal to make it more acceptable to police and prosecutors who did not like his first attempt.

“You cannot just immediately shoot or execute somebody for being in your house,” Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said.

The Cornish bill expands Minnesotans’ rights to use deadly force beyond their home, to locations such as their vehicles, boats, recreational vehicles, tents and other locations.

A citizen could use deadly force, such as a gun, if he believes “in good faith” that it is required to defend himself. The citizen may “meet force with superior force,” and is not required to retreat from an attacker, the bill says.

Current law requires a person to retreat from a home invader before using deadly force such as a gun and does not give Minnesotans the right to use deadly force away from home.

Deadly force may be used when someone “possesses a reasonable belief” that he is being threatened with significant injury or death.

Among changes Cornish, a police chief and former game warden, made in the bill was to forbid Minnesotans to obtain a handgun permit from a state with less stringent requirements.

Cornish said Minnesotans have a right to protect themselves. They should not feel in danger on their home deck, in their cars or other locations.

Law enforcement organizations oppose the Cornish bill, but Cornish said he has received much support from police and deputy sheriffs.

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said he has talked to four law enforcement officials in his area who support the bill.

While Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said he was concerned about the lack of gun training could lead to accidental deaths or injuries, Cornish said police receive “very little” training in when to shoot.

Paymar, however, said state law requires law enforcement officers to have hours of training, but Cornish’s bill does not require other gun owners to be trained.

“This bill gives people more rights to use deadly force than we give to police officers,” Mullery said.

One concern police expressed is that they fear under Cornish’s bill a homeowner may shoot them when chasing a suspect through a yard. Cornish said that would not apply unless there is a threat to the homeowner.

The debate drew many emotional comments.

“This bill is a license to kill,” said Rep. Linda Slocum, DFL-Richfield.

A similar bill by Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, awaits Senate action.

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