Not content to allow any state to have looser gun laws than Michigan, a conservative state lawmaker is aiming to push through a bill greatly expanding citizens’ authority to use deadly force when threatened by a crime. However, the bill – nearly identical to one passed recently in Florida – is founded upon questionable logic. Inspired by overly romanticized visions of the Wild West of a bygone era, the law could lead to guns being brandished in nearly any situation, warranted or not. The legislation would encourage the use of lethal force as a first response – not the last resort – in a threatening situation. From the 2000 presidential election to the Terri Schiavo debacle, it is clear that Florida’s lead may not always be the best to follow. This bill is yet another idea from the Sunshine State that should not see the light of day.

Sarah Royce

State Sen. Alan Cropsey (R-Dewitt) introduced the bill, which received a hearing in the state Senate Judiciary Committee – which Cropsey chairs – last month. In essence, the proposed law would remove a victim’s duty to try to retreat in the face of a threat, and offers legal immunity from criminal and civil cases to those who use deadly force in retaliation to certain attempted crimes. The bill’s vague language – it authorizes deadly force to prevent any “forcible felony,” a term not defined in Michigan law – has thus far prevented a vote.

Proponents of the bill have extolled the virtues of standing one’s ground in the face of a criminal attack, instead of the current requirement to retreat from a threat if possible. As Cropsey himself told the Detroit Free Press: “Why should you have to retreat from a criminal? Why should you have to go back into your shell? It’s a take-back-the-streets kind of thing.” Yet Michigan law already recognizes a right to self-defense when a person has a reasonable belief that he might be gravely injured, killed or sexually assaulted. The current law appears adequate, and it is unclear why a broader authorization of force is needed.

A recent example of the worrying implications of this bill occurred in its birthplace, Florida. A tow-truck driver shot and killed a man angry that his car had been towed from an illegal parking space and then quickly fled the scene. Under the law’s provisions, the tow-truck driver claims he was justified in shooting the man, despite the lack of solid evidence that the man posed a threat to the driver. Evaluating the circumstantial evidence in the case will be particularly difficult given that a rather key witness is now dead.

Opponents of the bill, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, have been staunch in their condemnation of it – and justifiably so. Cases like the one in Florida have given even more credence to their claim that the law encourages unrestrained vigilantism. This is an especially pressing concern in Michigan, where the number of citizens with concealed weapons permits has ballooned to more than 100,000 after changes to the law in recent years made it easy for almost anyone who wants to pack heat to do so. The state Legislature would be irresponsible, at best, if it made this bill law.

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