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Controversial ‘Stand Your Ground’ expansion headed to House Floor

By Mike Cook

The use of deadly force is permitted in Minnesota to resist or prevent an offense when someone “reasonably believes” the offense exposes them “to great bodily harm or death” or prevents the commission of a felony at their residence.

Authority to use such a defense mechanism could expand.

Approved Tuesday by the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee and sent to the House Floor is a bill to expand the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law. The 9-6 roll-call vote was along party lines, except for Rep. Keith Franke (R-St. Paul Park) joining all DFLers in opposition.

Because it was approved after committee deadline, the bill will be referred from the House to the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee before potential action on the House Floor.

Sponsored by Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia), HF238, as amended, would provide Minnesotans greater rights to use deadly force while defending themselves or their home.

The so-called “Defense of Dwelling and Person Act of 2017,” would justify the use of deadly force to resist or prevent:

  • what an occupant reasonably believes is the commission of a felony in the individual’s dwelling;
  • what the individual reasonably believes is an offense or attempted offense that would imminently expose the individual or another person to substantial bodily harm, great bodily harm or death; or
  • what the individual reasonably believes is the commission or imminent commission of a forcible felony.

A person must be a reluctant participant, meaning they could not have been provoked or initiated the situation. Deadly force would not be permitted against peace officers involved in lawful conduct.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center) noted the bill matches one Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed in 2012.

“The question is, ‘What is different in this bill compared to when the governor vetoed it last time that causes you to believe there would be any different outcome?’” she said.

“I don’t believe anything,” countered Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center), the committee chair, later adding that, in recent years, the governor has sent “all sorts of letters out threatening vetoes.”

No public testimony was taken, but at a March 8 hearing, supporters said citizens have a fundamental right to defend themselves and their property. Opponents, including representatives of law enforcement and a county attorney, said current law is sufficient when it comes to self-defense and property protection.

“I do not believe this is in the best interests of Minnesotans,” Hilstrom said.

The bill’s companion, SF292, sponsored by Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

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