Rekha Basu of the Des Moines Register is awfully concerned about a proposed change to Iowa’s use of force statute. Currently, before using any kind of force in self-defense, you have the duty to retreat from a confrontation – if it can be done safely. The proposed change would remove that language, allowing individuals to “stand their ground” (what opponents derisively call a Make My Day law) and meet force with force. In her column opposing alerting Iowans of their impending doom, she accuses legislators who support the bill of condoning, nay, encouraging murder . . .
Members of the Iowa Legislature have come up with a Wild West approach to dealing with home intruders: Shoot to kill them.
That’s a provision of proposed legislation known as the Justifiable Use of Force, or Stand Your Ground bill, passed 14-7 by the House Public Safety Committee.
Let’s look at what the current law actually says, shall we?
Iowa Statute 704.1 Reasonable Force: “Reasonable force” is that force and no more which a reasonable person, in like circumstances, would judge to be necessary to prevent an injury or loss and can include deadly force if it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to avoid injury or risk to one’s life or safety or the life or safety of another, or it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to resist a like force or threat. Reasonable force, including deadly force, may be used even if an alternative course of action is available if the alternative entails a risk to life or safety, or the life or safety of a third party, or requires one to abandon or retreat from one’s dwelling or place of business or employment.
So the way things stand now, I’m required to retreat from a confrontation if I can do it safely unless I am in my home or place of business. Which means that Ms. Basu’s expression of shrieking hysteria heartfelt concern regarding the changes is . . . misplaced, shall we say.
Under [Stand Your Ground (SYG)], someone who feels threatened that someone else might kill or cause them serious injury could shoot to kill first.
Just imagine the possibilities. Your spouse throws a plate of spaghetti at you in a heated argument. Shoot her. A mentally ill person enters your home uninvited and reaches into his pocket. Fire away. The law would be on your side if you said you felt threatened.
Ms. Basu believes that I, and gun owners like me, am a sociopath. She seems to think that I am a seething cauldron of homicidal rage and hate, so morally bankrupt that my burning desire to slap leather and gun someone down is only held in check by possible legal consequences. If I had my way I would joyfully murder people left and right. Bump into me at the mall? BLAM! You’re toast. Walk on my lawn and I’ll fertilize it with your blood. Throw a plate of spaghetti at me and I’ll blow you away.
But given Ms. Basu’s blatant disregard for the truth erroneous conclusion, let’s see what HF 573 actually changes when it comes to the use of force:
1. “Reasonable force” is means that force and no more which a reasonable person, in like circumstances, would judge to be necessary to prevent an injury or loss and can include deadly force if it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to avoid injury or risk to one’s life or safety or the life or safety of another, or it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to resist a like force or threat.
Well that’s odd; SYG does nothing to remove the reasonableness standard for use of force. So why does Ms. Basu think that a reasonable person would believe shooting your spouse over some flying pasta is necessary to avoid injury? If this is projection on her part, perhaps it’s best that she confines herself to wielding a laptop and not a Glock.
Ms. Basu continues:
The other person’s actual intent wouldn’t even matter, under the bill’s wording: “A person may be wrong in the estimation of the danger or the force necessary to repel the danger as long as there is a reasonable basis for the belief…” In fact, unlawful entry into a home, place of work or vehicle would by itself “present an imminent risk of unlawful deadly force.” So just respond by shooting.
Oops! In her spaghetti scenario above, Ms. Basu says you can shoot your spouse willy-nilly, but here she seems to acknowledge that this is not the case. In fact the bill explicitly states that the ‘presumption of imminent risk’ does not apply to “a lawful resident of the dwelling.“
And whatever Ms. Basu may think, I’m not a cold-blooded monster actively seeking opportunities to shoot someone. In reality I am what a friend of mine maintains is the primary demographic for permit-holders: an OFWG. A middle-aged man with heart trouble and other health problems who holds doors for women and gets things down from high shelves in the supermarket for people who can’t reach.
Ms. Basu then breaks out the “what-ifs”:
Iowa had nearly 16,000 burglaries in 2009. If the law were in effect then, we could expect many of those intruders to now be dead.
What if someone is paranoid, apt to believe he’s being threatened when he isn’t? What if the intruder is more apt to harm himself, as in “suicide by cop”? What if the person standing his ground is drunk, hot-headed and trigger-happy, or a Josh Powell looking to be rid of his wife and children? If House File 573 becomes law, it wouldn’t be hard to fake an encounter to make it seem justified.
According to the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing the average offender commits two burglaries a week, which gives us about 160 burglars operating in Iowa. Now according to Dave Kopel’s Lawyers, Guns & Burglars (Section VI.C and footnote 105) 12.7% of U.S. burglaries occur when someone is at home (“hot” burglaries) so in 2009 there would have been about 2,000 hot burglaries in IA. Ms. Basu asks what would have happened if this law were in effect in 2009? If 8% of homeowners had shot their home-invading burglar, then the effect would be no more burglars in Iowa. I’m sorry but I can’t see that as a bad thing.
As for the rest of her what-ifs:
- Paranoiac – if they can’t convince the cops, the DA and a jury of the reasonableness of their actions, they go to prison.
- Suicide by cop – they’ll get their wish, although it would be kind of hard on the poor shooter.
- Drunk, hot-headed and trigger-happy – see Paranoiac, above.
But let’s pause a moment there and look at how (or rather, if) HF 573 would change the situation.
- Ms. Basu believes that someone who does not have a sufficient grasp on reality to recognize a real threat is still sane enough that they would exercise their “duty to retreat” under current law?
- Does anyone really think someone who would commit suicide by cop won’t if the shooter has a duty to retreat? Really?
- A drunken carrier is already violating IA carry law which sets a BAC limit of 0.08 (same as for DWI). What makes Ms. Basu believe that having a duty to retreat will make any difference to the drunk, hot-headed and trigger happy pistoleer?
As for the specific suicidal/murderous father scenario (as always I try not to use mass murderers’ names), I think we can dismiss out of hand the idea that this murderer (whose wife has still not been found as I write this) would have had any interest in “staging” a scene.
But, to be fair – and who doesn’t want to be fair? – let’s address her implied question of “what happens if someone takes advantage of this law to kill their spouse and fake an encounter to claim it was self-defense?” For starters, I guess I have a little more faith in the intelligence and integrity of our LEOs’ than Ms. Basu. Give the cops a body and a staged scenario I believe things would quickly unravel for our spousal murderer. Indeed giving the cops a body and crime scene makes proving murder one heck of a lot easier than what happened in Ms. Basu’s example. Police are assuming that he killed his wife but the most recent information I’ve seen is that they still don’t know if or where he did it.
Ms. Basu falls back on her assumption that everyone is a cold, calculating, killer:
The bill actually encourages confrontations, telling people they have no duty to retreat from any place where they are lawfully. It gives permission to stay and “meet force with force.” It’s no surprise that the Iowa County Attorneys, State Police, Peace Officers and Police Chiefs associations oppose it.
No it does not ‘encourage confrontations.’ What it does is ensure that if a confrontation occurs, the victim (i.e. the one who exercised their right of self-defense) retains their presumption of innocence. If I am ever unfortunate enough to need to use deadly force in self-defense, unlike a deliberate murderer I will not run after defending myself. Unlike a murderer, I will call 911. Unlike a murderer I will not lie to the police after defending myself. Also unlike a murderer, I won’t be presumed innocent after defending myself because I will admit that I shot someone.
As the law currently stands, if I used deadly force in self-defense the prosecution doesn’t have to prove anything. It would be up to me to convince the jury that my use of deadly force was reasonable. It would be up to me to convince the jury that I was in fear of death or great bodily harm. It would be up to me to convince the jury that I was unable to retreat safely.
Ms. Basu conclusively demonstrates her disdain for the presumption of innocence when she says:
[SYG]’s one of a package of proposed laws coming out of the Iowa House this session relaxing controls on guns. … One would return a gun to someone who was arrested carrying a gun under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Basu has apparently forgotten that arrested does not mean convicted.
And one of the most incomprehensible would take away the right of local governments to ban guns in public places, such as city halls, parks and schools.
Well no, it really isn’t incomprehensible at all. It’s called pre-emption and there are several reasons it is a good idea. First, it prevents people from inadvertent criminality. Suppose I live in Smith County which allows permit-holders to carry in City Hall, but my mother in Jones County which prohibits carry in City Hall. Now mom broke her arm last week and can’t drive, so I have to take her to City Hall to pay her water bill. As soon as I walk in the door of City Hall I’m breaking the law. Is that just?
Ms. Basu then gives a classic example of the false dichotomy logical fallacy:
How much of the push for these bills comes from campaign donations to lawmakers from groups opposing gun restrictions, and how much from an actual belief in an old-fashioned, macho vigilantism to settle scores?
So Ms. Basru, have you stopped beating your husband or have you started drowning kittens? According to FollowTheMoney.org’s Iowa page – a resource she could easily have used herself – the “gun lobby” was not in the top 20 contributors, nor were “gun manufacturers” in the top 15 industries. In fact, according to the contributor breakdown, between 2006 and 2011, Anti-Gun Control groups donated $21,300 to various campaigns (but your boogeyman Rep. Windschitl got $0 from those groups). As a comparison, Gay/Lesbian Rights & Issues groups donated $233,322 (or more than ten times as much, but still less than 0.5% of the total).
As for using old-fashioned macho vigilantism to settle scores, again with the name calling! The Stand Your Ground bill is not about “calling someone out” or hunting them down to settle a score. In fact Section 704.6 When Defense Not Available specifically addresses that:
The defense of justification is not available to the following:
- One who is participating in a forcible felony, or riot, or a duel.
- One who initially provokes the use of force against oneself, with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict injury on the assailant.
Look, here comes the bloody shirt!
Either way, efforts to relax gun laws now are a disconnect from the reality that the more guns in circulation, the likelier they are to be used.
Say, Rekha (I think we’re close enough now for me to relax the formality a bit) I don’t suppose you have any, you know, evidence supporting that “reality”? Because if you do I’m sure the Brady Bunch, Illegal (and dead) Mayors Against Guns and similar groups would love to see it because for the past several years they’ve been reduced to complaining that “more guns on the streets” (i.e. shall-issue and Constitutional carry laws) do not actually lower crime the way proponents say they will.
Gun controls have been enacted over decades as a result of painful lessons learned, from the attempt on President Ronald Reagan to Columbine to Virginia Tech.
I don’t know about the attempt on Reagan, but Columbine and VA Tech both took place in “gun free” zones. In fact, excepting only the 1/11 Tucson shooting, every single mass shooting in this country has taken place in a “gun free” zone. So maybe we should work to minimize such target rich environments, no?
Finally Rekha concludes:
Bills like these undermine efforts to teach people to settle conflicts by negotiation rather than force, and to build a more civil society rather than a more lawless one. They must be (civilly) opposed.
No, Rekha, bills like Stand Your Ground are about protecting a victim from arrest unless the police have probable cause to believe that a shooting was not in self-defense.
They are about protecting the presumption of innocence when the victim of an attack uses force in self-defense.
They are about removing the second-guessing and armchair quarterbacking that cops and prosecutors go through when trying to determine if someone could have safely retreated instead of using deadly force.
They are about protecting someone who thought a toy gun was a real one.
They are about providing financial restitution to someone who is found not guilty after being forced to defend his life and then forced to defend his actions.
They are about allowing someone to use the threat of deadly force to warn off an attacker instead of having to actually shoot them.
They are about preventing people from becoming “accidental criminals” by abolishing crazy-quilt patchworks of gun laws.
They are about recognizing that the freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil, and Constitutional right — subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility.