Controversial pro-gun "deadly force" bill approved by Senate, likely headed to Dayton

Yesterday, with a mostly party-line 40-23 vote, the Minnesota Senate approved the controversial Defense of Dwelling and Person Act, a bill that broadens the rights of property owners to use deadly force.

Since the House passed a version of the bill last year, the legislation should soon reach the desk of Gov. Mark Dayton, who has hinted in recent days that he'll veto the bill because of the law enforcement community's concerns.

Sen. Barb Goodwin, D-Columbia Heights, made the bold claim that the bill, if it becomes law, would give Minnesota the loosest gun laws in the nation.

Currently, citizens who use deadly force have an obligation to demonstrate that they fired as a last resort, and that their decision to shoot is one other reasonable people would make. The Defense Act, sponsored in the Senate by Rep. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, weakens that standard, creating a presumption that anyone who shoots believes they're in great danger.

The bill would also broaden the definition of a "dwelling" to include vehicles, boats, and hotel rooms. So for example, if a stranger walked up to your car while you're stopped at a stoplight and they try to open the door, the Defense Act would presumably allow you to lawfully shoot and kill them. Under current law, a vehicle isn't considered a dwelling and even when at home, there has to be good reason to believe your well-being is in jeopardy before you can lawfully shoot.

County attorneys are concerned that easing the deadly force requirement -- a top national priority of the National Rifle Association -- will make it more difficult to prosecute gun violence cases. And police are worried that expanding the set of circumstances where people can legally use deadly force will make their job more dangerous.

According to MPR, the bill approved by the Senate also includes provisions banning weapon confiscations by law enforcement during declared emergencies, and recognizing weapons permits from other states. Currently, permits are only recognized from the 14 states that have gun laws similar to Minnesota. Under the bill approved yesterday by the Senate, permits from states with lower standards would be recognized in Minnesota.

Hoffman argues her bill is all about empowering Minnesotans to defend themselves, but DFLers characterize it as a solution in search of a problem.
Hoffman argues her bill is all about empowering Minnesotans to defend themselves, but DFLers characterize it as a solution in search of a problem.

Hoffman said she thinks "we need to empower people to allow them to protect themselves." But opponents note that current law already allows citizens to use deadly force when they're under grave threat, and argue the bill replaces an objective deadly force standard with a harder-to-enforce subjective one.

Sen. John Harrington, D-St. Paul and the former St. Paul police chief, said the bill "has ominous implications for the peace and well-being of Minnesota," adding that "the changes in this bill are absolutely sweeping and unnecessary."

MPR reports that Dayton, when asked whether he'll sign the bill, suggested he's sympathetic to the objections voiced by the law enforcement community.

"I went to the funeral of a courageous police officer in Lake City just a couple of weeks ago, Shawn Schneider -- and his widow and three children," Dayton said. "I don't want to do that again, and I don't want to do anything that they believe based on their considerable experience is going to put their lives at greater risk."

Related coverage:
-- Police, prosecutors oppose bill easing "deadly force" requirements
-- Controversial bill easing "deadly force" requirements advancing through legislature

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