CT version of ‘Stand your ground’ faces opposition in key committee

Gun News

A bill pending in a key legislative committee would provide legal protections for innocent targets of criminals, allowing them the use of deadly force, especially firearms, to defend themselves.

While supported by dozens of gun owners and representatives of firearms rights groups during a recent marathon public hearing, the Connecticut version of a so-called stand-your-ground law is unlikely to clear the Judiciary Committee.

The legislation, proposed by Republicans including state Rep. Craig Fishbein of Wallingford, a top GOP member of the committee, would force state prosecutors to presume that the threat a suspect or suspects presented in someone’s home, work place or motor vehicle was so dire that deadly force was necessary.

“It shifts the burden,” Fishbein said after the 16-hour hearing on a variety of gun-safety bills. “It merely creates a presumption that the action was justified. Of course, the presumption could be overturned, based on particular facts. Currently, one has to prove that their action is reasonable. This bill would put the burden on prosecutors that the presumption of the person was not reasonable.”

Florida’s stand-your-ground law received national attention in 2012 when George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17 year-old. Zimmerman was acquitted of murder.

Harwood W. Loomis of Woodbridge told the committee that as a disabled veteran and senior citizen, he believes crime has decreased overall in recent years but the nature of criminal activity seems to be more-violent.

“There is a general lack of respect and value for human life on the part of criminals,” Loomis said. “Physically, I am no match for even one younger, stronger assailant—and it appears that today, criminals don’t work alone. They travel and operate in packs. There should never be any doubt that if I am trapped in my car by an assailant or a group of assailants that I have a God-given right to defend myself.”

Lauren E. LePage, state director of the National Rifle Association in Connecticut, said the presumptive defense, combined with another proposal to eliminate the requirement for people in churches and other places of worship “retreat” before using deadly force, would make it easier for criminal targets to defend themselves.

“Expecting the police to prevent all crime is neither practically nor legally justified,” LePage said in prepared testimony. “Courts have consistently ruled that law enforcement officers have no enforceable obligation to protect individuals.”

But it is unlikely to emerge beyond the legislative committee level.

“We’ve had this bill in the committee off and on forever,” said state Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who opposes it.

“First of all, you don’t need it. Second, there are racial implications we’ve seen played out across the country” in states including Georgia and Florida. “I have no reason to believe people can’t protect themselves,” Winfield said in an interview Friday. “I don’t know why some people think we’ll be safer than what we can do already. I don’t want people feeling they should have to be a hero. Thinking you have a license to be a hero gets people hurt.”

In unsigned testimony from the state Division of Criminal Justice, where Richard Colangelo with retire from the post of chief state’s attorney on March 31 and John Russotto will take over on an interim basis, prosecutors warned of the potential dangers of the proposal.

“Such a change in the law is unnecessary because it will have no effect,” the prosecutors wrote, stressing that under current law, if someone claims self-defense, it is up to the state to show it wasn’t.

“Because the state must meet this high burden of disproving a claim of self-defense in every case in which it is asserted, and because such a high degree of proof always will be sufficient to rebut the proposed presumption of reasonableness set forth in the bill, the presumption will, for all intents and purposes, be a hollow gesture that has no meaningful effect,” prosecutors wrote. “Intended or not, as written, this portion of the bill will effectively permit one person, absent any perceived threat of personal or third party harm, to kill another person merely because the person employing deadly physical force reasonably believes that the other person is attempting, or has succeeded, with force, to enter their unoccupied motor vehicle.”

The division warned that gunfire used to supposedly prevent a motor vehicle theft creates more hazards. “Ask yourself: Is your neighbor’s motor vehicle worth an errant bullet through your child’s bedroom window or wall at 3 a.m.?” the prosecutors wrote. “Moreover, human life, even one engaging in criminal activity, is more valuable than a motor vehicle.”

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT

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