The Associated Press

Gov. Patrick: No To ‘Stand Your Ground’ Bill

BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick is vowing to veto a bill that would create a so-called stand your ground law in Massachusetts.

More than two dozen state lawmakers are backing the bill, which mirrors the law at the heart of the debate over the killing of an unarmed black teenager in Florida by a neighborhood watch captain.

State Sen. Stephen Brewer has sponsored the bill for the past five years. The Barre Democrat said his main goal is to protect individuals who defend themselves in public from criminal and civil penalties.

Massachusetts residents already have the right to defend themselves if they’re attacked inside their homes.

“What I was focusing on when I put my name on the bill was the civil part of it,” Brewer said. “I have no interest in the commonwealth resorting to vigilante justice.”

Patrick said he doesn’t see a need for the bill.

“It won’t get past my desk,” Patrick said Thursday on his monthly radio program on WTKK-FM.

Critics of “stand your ground” laws say they encourage the use of deadly force when it could be avoided.

They point to the case of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot to death after an encounter with 28-year-old George Zimmerman in the central Florida town of Sanford. Zimmerman told police he was attacked by Martin, who was not armed, and shot him in self-defense. Zimmerman has not been arrested.

Gun control activist John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence, said the law in Florida and similar laws in other states encourage a “shoot first and ask questions later” mentality.

“Stand your ground is an excuse to kill anyone you don’t like and not be held responsible,” he said. “It is horrific public policy. It is racist based public policy.”

Supporters say there’s another side to the story.

They point to an incident in 2009, when an off-duty security guard fatally shot a psychiatric patient as the patient stabbed a doctor in Boston.

Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley concluded that Paul Langone “acted in self-defense and the defense of Dr. Astrid Desrosiers” when he fired at 37-year-old Jay Carciero and that Desrosiers “would undoubtedly have died” if Langone had not intervened.

But state Rep. Daniel Winslow said Brewer’s bill is needed to protect individuals like Langone from a possible wrongful-death civil lawsuit even if no criminal charges are brought.

“If you lawfully used deadly force then you should not be able to be sued for it,” said the Norfolk Republican, one of 27 lawmakers sponsoring the bill. Winslow, a former district court judge, said current Massachusetts law requires an individual to try to retreat, if they do so safely, if they are attacked.

But Conley and Attorney General Martha Coakley say examples like the shooting involving Langone show the state’s existing laws governing self-defense are working.

“I think we have pretty strong laws here in Massachusetts around self-defense,” Coakley said.

Rep. Byron Rushing, another critic of “stand your ground” laws, said the bill’s language is too fuzzy.

“When you are out on the street, it’s very hard to define when someone is in your personal space and what threatening means,” said Rushing, D-Boston.

Brewer said he filed the bill on behalf of the Gun Owners Action League.

Jim Wallace, the group’s executive director, said there’s no real recognition in state law of an individual’s right to defend himself outside their home.

“All we’re looking for is that if you are put into a situation that is untenable, where you have no other option, that you have the right to defend yourself,” he said.

The bill would allow an individual to use deadly force in a public area “if he or she acted in the reasonable belief that an assailant was about to inflict great bodily injury or death upon themselves or upon another person.”

The bill also states that “there shall be no duty on a person to retreat from any place that they have a right to be” and “no person who has committed an act of lawful defense … shall be held liable in an action for damages for death or injuries to an assailant.”

The bill is currently before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary but isn’t expected to pass.

“I don’t have any false hope that it will emerge,” Brewer said.

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  • Chuck Arning

    The Martin tragedy, among many issues, is a prime example why this “Stand Your Ground” law is ill-conceived for it forces violence.  In Florida, it has presented all kinds of problems for prosecutors for bad actors have used it to inflict lethal damage on others and walk away.   This is just a bad law that makes no sense in today’s society.

  • Sdfg

    Why does Mr Rosenthal assume the attacker would be a minority?  Very racist statement.

    • sjwa

      because the majority of assualt and robbery and murder is done by them. fact. not politically correct to say, but true.

  • Anonymous

    ‘Right to defend’ is not a synonym for ‘use lethal force’ except in Stand Your Ground laws.

    A threat ≠ great bodily harm. 

  • Redsox4

    “But state Rep. Daniel Winslow said Brewer’s bill is needed to protect individuals like Langone from a possible wrongful-death civil lawsuit even if no criminal charges are brought”
    So if that’s the case, then make a law just for the civil side.  It seems the problem is not with the DA’s office and criminal charges, but with an awful “sue-happy” legal system

  • Brettearle

    According to the article above, a private citizen could more easily misperceive and misunderstand the actions of another individual–when confronting a public situation, where there is tension, conflict, a fracas, or, otherwise, loud and angry words being exchanged:  

    Who wouldn’t, under such anxious circumstances, potentially err on the side of caution–and employ actions that could protect one’s self or others?

    But to err on the side of caution, under a “Stand Your Ground Law”, could mean self-defense to the point of unnecessary use of force and/or Barney Fife-ism.

    This law could be misused and even abused.  At the very least, the law, sometimes, in an unofficial way–could put the serious responsibility of  law enforcement in the hands of untrained, private citizens.

  • danby

    We can all fell threatened at any time.  We all have fears.  If I have a fear of blond haired blue-eyed men with shaved heads should I be able to shoot him if I feel he is in my personal space as I walk down a street?  That is crazy.  It takes away all of our civil rights.  It means that we can not walk in public places with any degree of safety.  Anyone can have a bad day.  But it should be as I always told my children. If  you feel threatened,  walk away,  and if you need to, call the police,  or a friend that you know is close by.  Making confrontation a way of life is the end to a civil society.  It is time to stop these Stand Your Ground policies in their tracks before there are more senseless murders and before our society breaks down into daily hand to hand combat.

  • Iceman

    Such an act would be barbaric here as it is barbaric in Florida. Massachusetts ought to stand for civilization in the proper instance, of course.

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