Wyoming a battleground in national fight over deadly force
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – In the “Cowboy State,” where guns are present in more than half of all homes, an unlikely battleground is forming in the fight over the appropriate use of firearms.Flush with victory in its push for state laws allowing concealed handguns, the National Rifle Association is lobbying lawmakers here and in 11 other states to make it easier for people to defend themselves with deadly force.The NRA, backed by a growing membership of about 4 million, wants legislation specifying that people have no duty to retreat from an attacker before using deadly force. About half of all states have similar rules on the books.But in Wyoming, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is taking a stand.James Brady, the former press secretary to President Reagan who was wounded in an attack on the president, called on Wyoming legislators in a statement last week to oppose the legislation, called it “a sham, a farce, a dangerous solution to a nonexistent problem.””No one’s in jail in Wyoming for acting in legitimate self-defense,” Brady said. “The only thing this law might do is keep people out of jail who deserve to be there.”Neither state Rep. Stephen Watt, a Republican sponsor of the Wyoming bill, nor Uinta County Attorney Mike Greer, the president of the Wyoming County and Prosecuting Attorneys Association, could cite a Wyoming case in which someone was prosecuted but would have been spared if a no-retreat law were on the books.But Watt says that’s not the point.”It’s about a right to defend yourself,” said Watt, a former policeman. “And that is a right that we all should have, regardless of whether there’s been any cases where someone has been prosecuted for using self defense or not. It’s something that we should not have to worry about, and this is to give back that right to the citizens of Wyoming.”Twenty-five states have such laws on the books, and the NRA says 38 states now have some provision allowing people to carry concealed handguns, up from just 10 in the mid-1980s.NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the group is now pushing no-retreat bills in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, South Dakota and Washington, in addition to Wyoming. He said it was eyeing other states as well.”It is a priority,” Arulanandam said. “In states where the statute calls for victims of crime to retreat, we think that that’s wrong.”In Florida, where a no-retreat law was signed early last year, defense lawyers are starting to bring it into their defense of shooting cases, said Arthur C. Hayhoe, executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.”What they’ve done is legalized manslaughter here in Florida,” Hayhoe said. “It promotes irresponsible, aggressive and even illegal use of firearms. What’s going to happen when the gun-owning community, it settles into them what this is really about, and they discover that these guys are being exonerated when they’re charged with manslaughter?”Despite Wyoming’s overwhelmingly pro-gun culture, Peter Hamm, communications director of the Brady Campaign, said the group intends to muster whatever opposition it can by focusing on the impact.”This is not really a gun issue,” Hamm said. “It’s a violence issue.”—On the Net:National Rifle Association: http://www.nra.org/Brady Campaign: http://www.handguncontrol.org/
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