Next week the Iowa House will be voting on House File 573, the “Stand Your Ground” bill. This bill is a mixture of the good, the bad, and the ugly — and at this point, the bad and the ugly seem to outweigh the good, by a considerable amount. Which is why I voted against the bill when it came up in today’s Iowa House Public Safety Committee.
The bill nonetheless passed out of committee, 14-7, and like I said, we’ll be voting on it again on the House floor soon. I got MANY emails from people all over the state, including several from Clinton County folks, asking me to vote for the bill…. and I read them all, and I thought about it, and worked through the bill several times, and in the end I voted NO, and unless the bill changes drastically for the better I’ll be voting no again. NOT because I’m against guns, or people who use guns, or self-defense, or killing people (well, w/in reason); I voted no because this bill is way too extreme. Seriously, all you people who asked me to vote yes — read this, and then let me know if you still think it’s a great bill.
I’ll tell you who doesn’t think it’s a great bill — every single one of Iowa’s law enforcement agencies have registered against this bill (http://coolice.legis.state.ia.us/Cool-ICE/default.asp?Category=Lobbyist&Service=DspReport&ga=84&type=b&hbill=hf573 ). Just so that’s clear.Not that law enforcement is always right about legislation — often they’re wrong. But this time I’m thinking they’re right. Here’s why.
Greatly Expands the Castle Doctrine
Iowa law already has a very strong built-in Castle Doctrine (your home is your castle and all that) – if someone breaks into your house, and you shoot him, it is extremely unlikely that you are going to be charged with (or convicted of) any crime unless there’s something real sketchy about the situation(e.g., the person who “broke in” was your ex-wife to whom you were paying lots of alimony) – because there is already a legal presumption that you can use reasonable force , which includes deadly force, to protect yourself in your own home/business/place of employment, even if you could safely run away or hide under the bed, and the burden in on the State to prove that what you did was unreasonable. And that’s as it should be. However, this bill extends that legal presumption from your home/business/place of employment to encompass pretty much anywhere that you have a legal right to be, including your vehicle.
HF 573 would amend Iowa Code section 704.1 to state “a person has no duty to retreat from any place where one is lawfully present, and has the right to stand the person’s ground, and meet force with force, if the person believes reasonable force, including deadly force, is necessary under the circumstances to prevent death or serious injury to oneself, a third party, or to prevent the commission of a violent felony. 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 of the person and the person acts reasonably in the response to that belief.” (emphasis added) Thus, this bill says you never have to retreat, no matter where you are (pretty much), no matter how much safer it might be for you and everyone around you to just run away (or drive away, if you’re in your car).
What does this mean? Well, if you pull into the Wal-Mart parking lot in a bad part of town and you see someone walking towards you quickly in what appears to you to be a somewhat hostile manner waving something around that in the dark appears to maybe possibly be a gun and maybe even yelling things at you or in your general direction that could possibly be threats – well, under current law, you’d have to make a reasonable effort to … drive away. Unless driving away posed some greater threat then not driving away, which it wouldn’t, obviously. But under HF 573, you wouldn’t be required to “retreat” — you could shoot that person dead, and if turns out it was just some poor drunk in a bad mood brandishing a cell phone, oh well.
Or if some kid is breaking into the bicycle shed behind your house, under current law you’d probably need to call the cops, or maybe sic the dog on the kid – under HF 573, you could shoot the kid, because all felony level burglaries, including Burglary 3rd, are considered “violent crimes” and there’s a legal presumption that you can use deadly force to stop or prevent a violent crime (like someone breaking into your bicycle shed, which is just not a violent crime. Unless maybe if you’re a bicycle, but even then…).
If HF 573 becomes law, one gang member could shoot another in cold blood outside of a grocery store, and when the cops show up he could just explain that the dead guy threatened to kill him, and he reasonably believed the dead guy intended to carry out that threat at some point in the near future – even if the dead guy clearly doesn’t have a gun, and even if the dead guy didn’t actually threaten anyone (cause the dead guy is dead, and dead men tell no tales). Oh, plus if you shoot a bunch of innocent bystanders when you are attempting to shoot the bad man who you believe (right or wrong) is trying to steal the old lady’s purse, that’s probably OK, and you can’t be convicted of negligent homicide, and the dead people’s families can’t sue you.
Last session, when this bill first came up, I discussed it with Clinton County Sheriff Rick Lincoln, and Clinton Chief of Police Brian Guy, and Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf, and they all advocated against the bill because they believe that if the bill passes into law, we will see an increase in shootings in Iowa; they are also concerned that the extremely broad “self defense” rights created by this bill would make it much easier for criminal defendants to walk on murder charges, and as a criminal defense attorney, I can assure you that they are correct (which would be good for me and my clients, not so good for the State of Iowa in general).
Bottom line, this bill is just too extreme, period. Iowa’s law already allows citizens to use force, including deadly force, to protect themselves or others, and to protect their home or business or place of employment – it just needs to be reasonable force (which can include deadly force), and in proportion to the actual danger. This bill creates a presumption that it’s almost always reasonable to use deadly force, anywhere, and for all intents and purposes removes the proportionality requirement.
And to be honest, I am somewhat amazed that the majority of legislators on the House Public Safety Committee voted in favor of it, since last session a parade of law enforcement folk came before us and passionately implored us to vote this bill down, and shared their sincere and heartfelt concerns that if this bill passes, a large increase in violent deaths is inevitable, and that while some of those additional violent deaths will be due to criminals killing each other off with impunity (which I’m thinking that at least some of the members of the Public Safety committee might not have a big problem with), some of those additional dead people will be innocent bystanders, and some of those additional dead people will be law enforcement officers.
I am sure that Representative Matt Windschitl (who sponsored the bill, and whose family owns a big gun shop) had nothing but the best interests of Iowa’s citizens (or at least Iowa’s gun buyers/owners) in mind when he drafted HF 573; however, there are often unintended collateral consequences when we create new laws and the experts are telling us that the collateral consequences of this law will be the unnecessary deaths of many innocent bystanders and many law enforcement officers. That makes it a no vote for me. And that surely can’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows anything about me.