by Sarah Cade
Minnesota –-(Ammoland.com)- Minnesota desperately needs common sense gun laws – just not the ones you might think. Bills HF238 and HF188 sought to remedy unreasonable components of the current system, but were not included in the public safety omnibus. These bills should be included as amendments.
HF238 included a provision commonly known as “stand your ground.” Stand your ground laws serve an important purpose for communities of color: they defend the innocent from overzealous prosecution. Ideally, a self-defense claim should center on whether your use of force was reasonable under the circumstances, not on whether you could run faster than your attacker or whether you memorized the blueprints of the building before making the split second decision to defend your life.
Stand your ground removes the requirement to prove you could not retreat in court. Rather than forcing you to prove a negative, it places the burden of proof where it belongs: on the state. The concept that a person is innocent until proven guilty is a cornerstone of American justice – or at least it’s supposed to be.
In reality, exercising your right to self-defense leads to further victimization by the legal system. As a person of color, I know that racial stereotypes make a judge and jury less likely to give me the benefit of the doubt than my white peers. I also know that the legal system will attempt to intimidate me into taking a plea bargain for a crime I didn’t commit. These problems are compounded if I’m poor, don’t know my rights, or can’t obtain competent defense. Stand your ground laws help protect me from a system that chews up and spits out people who look like me.
Contrary to the misinformation put out by Minnesota’s leading gun control group, stand your ground does NOT allow you to shoot people for wearing a hoodie, it does not allow people to “shoot first,” and it does not allow people to shoot anytime they feel subjectively threatened. In fact, it’s hard to repeat those statements with a straight face if one has even a passing familiarity with Minnesota’s byzantine web of self-defense laws (although they helpfully make the point that our laws need simplification and reform so laypeople can understand them).
Stand your ground would not change the requirement to act reasonably.
Just like under current precedent, in order to present a valid claim of self-defense, a person must have BOTH an “actual and honest belief that he or she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm,” AND “the existence of reasonable grounds for that belief.” (State of Minnesota v. Baker 1968)
“The lack of a duty to retreat does not abrogate the obligation to act reasonably when using force in self defense. Therefore, in all situations in which a party claims self-defense, even absent a duty to retreat, the key inquiry will still be into the reasonableness of the use of force and the level of force under the specific circumstances of each case.” (State of Minnesota v. Glowacki 2001)
Despite overblown claims of racism, stand your ground is not in itself a racist law — mostly because there’s nothing to enforce. Instead, it is a DEFENSE that is invoked to protect the rights of an individual in court. It helps people of color defend themselves successfully from a predatory legal system that is stacked against them at every level, from arrest to sentencing.
According to data collected by the Tampa Bay Times, stand your ground provisions are more likely to be used to successfully defend black people than white people. Black people are 16.8% of Florida’s population, but make up 33% of SYG acquittals, while white people are 77.7% of the population, but account for only 56% of acquittals (note that the homicide rates for blacks did not increase, so this discrepancy is NOT due to the myth of suspicious whites shooting first. Instead, it means more blacks are avoiding unjust prosecution).
As a person of color who is also a gun owner, I know that HF238 and HF188 would help me, and people who look like me, to protect ourselves. I know similar provisions are common in other states (the majority of states have some version of stand your ground; over ten have permit-less carry), and that the hysteria about these laws is fueled by fear rather than rational analysis.
I also know that our justice system is plagued with racial inequality at every level. Stand your ground doesn’t change that, as it’s outside the scope of one bill to solve such pervasive problems. However, it does help defendants of color avoid unjust persecution, and that’s a step in the right direction.
About Sarah Cade:
Sarah Cade is a competitive pistol shooter and a volunteer Team Leader for the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus.