Why Minnesota Needs Stronger Self-Defense Laws

I was bored and needed something to write about so I went to my favorite source of inane stupidity, the Star Tribune. Let me say that I found some gold:

Those writing letters in favor of the “shoot first” bill apparently haven’t bothered to check out existing relevant law.

It is clear, in my opinion, that Minnesota statutes 609.06 and 609.065, taken together, authorize a person to use force, including deadly force, that is reasonably necessary to prevent an offense upon that person, or when assisting another.

I’m not aware of any “shoot first” bill making its way through legislature, only HF 1467 and SF 1357. My assumption is that the letter writer is referring to those bills without actually understanding them because there is no wording in either version that authorizes anything about shooting first.

Either way, being a diligent man I decided to look up the statutes being referred to by the author. First we have 609.06 titled Authorized Use of Force:


Subdivision 1. When authorized. Except as otherwise provided in subdivision 2, reasonable force may be used upon or toward the person of another without the other’s consent when the following circumstances exist or the actor reasonably believes them to exist:
(1) when used by a public officer or one assisting a public officer under the public officer’s direction:

(a) in effecting a lawful arrest; or

(b) in the execution of legal process; or

(c) in enforcing an order of the court; or

(d) in executing any other duty imposed upon the public officer by law; or

(2) when used by a person not a public officer in arresting another in the cases and in the manner provided by law and delivering the other to an officer competent to receive the other into custody; or

(3) when used by any person in resisting or aiding another to resist an offense against the person; or

(4) when used by any person in lawful possession of real or personal property, or by another assisting the person in lawful possession, in resisting a trespass upon or other unlawful interference with such property; or

(5) when used by any person to prevent the escape, or to retake following the escape, of a person lawfully held on a charge or conviction of a crime; or

(6) when used by a parent, guardian, teacher, or other lawful custodian of a child or pupil, in the exercise of lawful authority, to restrain or correct such child or pupil; or

(7) when used by a school employee or school bus driver, in the exercise of lawful authority, to restrain a child or pupil, or to prevent bodily harm or death to another; or

(8) when used by a common carrier in expelling a passenger who refuses to obey a lawful requirement for the conduct of passengers and reasonable care is exercised with regard to the passenger’s personal safety; or

(9) when used to restrain a person who is mentally ill or mentally defective from self-injury or injury to another or when used by one with authority to do so to compel compliance with reasonable requirements for the person’s control, conduct, or treatment; or

(10) when used by a public or private institution providing custody or treatment against one lawfully committed to it to compel compliance with reasonable requirements for the control, conduct, or treatment of the committed person.

Subd. 2. Deadly force used against peace officers. Deadly force may not be used against peace officers who have announced their presence and are performing official duties at a location where a person is committing a crime or an act that would be a crime if committed by an adult.

The obvious fact I wish to point out is the wording “reasonable force.” What amount of force is “reasonable?” There is no set in stone answer to that because everybody’s idea of reasonable is subjective. Whereas I find it reasonable to use deadly force to defend yourself from a mugger (because you can’t be sure mugging you is the only thing they intend to do) another person may not. As the law is currently written any use of force subjects the person using force to scrutiny and another person’s idea of what amount of force was reasonable (and remember that the person(s) judging were not there when you had to restort to force).

The use of deadly force is outlined in the second law mentioned by the author, 609.065:


The intentional taking of the life of another is not authorized by section 609.06, except when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor’s place of abode.

Emphasis mine. 609.065 specifically states that 609.06 does not authorize the use of deadly force. Therefore the use of deadly force in all mentioned actions in 609.06 is prohibited except “when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which an actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death…” Once again the wording of this law is the part that can bite you in a self-defense case. Is deadly force necessary in resisting an assailant? That really depends on who you ask and whether or not the person you ask can come up with methods in which deadly force could have been avoided. If you’re being mugged and you shoot the mugger was violence necessary? Could you have simply surrendered your belongings? Some people would say yes, while others would say there is no way of knowing.

The self-defense bills in the legislature are written to eliminate these subjective statements and give those involved in self-defense cases the benefit of the doubt. Namely the bill removes the argument that a person involved in a self-defense case could have retreated by eliminating their duty to retreat:

Subd. 3. Degree of force; retreat. An individual taking defensive action pursuant to subdivision 2 may use all force and means, including deadly force, that the individual in good faith believes is required to succeed in defense. The individual may meet force with superior force when the individual’s objective is defensive; the individual is not required to retreat; and the individual may continue defensive actions against an assailant until the danger has ended.

If a person no longer has a duty to retreat they can no longer be prosecuted for using deadly force if a third party could perceive a method in which the defender could have fled. Remember that those judging your actions and determining whether or not your use of force was “reasonable” weren’t there, they didn’t witness or take part, and they have no firsthand knowledge of what went down. Hindsight is 20/20 and it is possible that an outside looking at the situation after the fact could conjure up an avenue of retreat the defend did not notice. If somebody attacks you the benefit of the doubt should be on your side and you should have a legal right to take any means to ensure the preservation of your life. In a self-defense case the defender is not the initiator of violence and thus should not be judged as the criminal.

Not written into these statutes is the requirement to first “retreat” from a confrontation if it is reasonable and safe to do so. Importantly, the requirement to retreat does not apply in one’s home.

People need to understand that Americans inherited a great deal of common law, which is where the duty to retreat originates from. If the author of this letter actually read either HF 1467 or SF 1357 he would know this:

relating to firearms; clarifying and delimiting the authority of public officials to disarm individuals at any time; clarifying law on use of force in defense of home and person; codifying and extending Minnesota’s self-defense and defense of home laws; eliminating the common law duty to retreat in cases of self-defense outside the home;

Emphasis mine. Both bills specifically state that they eliminate the common law duty to retreat; it does not make any claim of repealing a supposed duty to retreat statute currently on the books. You don’t even have to be a lawyer to figure this out, you need only open Google and search for “common law duty retreat.”

The author is correct that the duty to retreat doesn’t apply to one’s home. This was decided by the Minnesota Supreme Court:

A duty to retreat does not attach to defense of dwelling claims. So long as a person claiming defense of dwelling meets all of the criteria for making his or her claim – that the killing was done in the belief that it was necessary to prevent the commission of a felony in the dwelling, that the person’s judgment as to the gravity of the situation was reasonable under the circumstances, and that the person’s election to defend his or her dwelling was such as a reasonable person would have made in light of the danger to be apprehended – the person need not have attempted to retreat from his or her home.

Of course the failure here is, once again, the author’s lack of actually reading either self-defense bill (or, if he did read them, a lack of comprehension). Let’s look at the language in HF 1467 and SF 1357:

expanding the boundaries of dwelling for purposes of self-defense;


(d) “Dwelling” means a building defined under section 609.556, subdivision 3, an overnight stopping accommodation of any kind, or a place of abode, that an individual temporarily or permanently is occupying or intending to occupy as a habitation or home. A dwelling includes, but is not limited to, a building or conveyance and that building’s or conveyance’s curtilage and any attached or adjacent deck, porch, appurtenance, or other structure, whether the building or conveyance is used temporarily or permanently for these purposes, is mobile or immobile, or is a motor vehicle, watercraft, motor home, tent, or the equivalent.

Both bills expand the definition of dwelling to include things like camping tends, automobiles, etc. In other words you will enjoy the same protections in your car as you would in your home.

Minnesota’s self-defense laws have worked very well for a long time. No one is in prison for acting reasonably in defense of one’s self or home. There have been several cases in recent years of the use of deadly force by a person in defense of their home, and the defenders were not charged with any crime.

The bill proposed by Rep. Tony Cornish would seriously alter long-accepted standards of reasonableness, to the detriment of our citizens and the safety of law enforcement officers.

Actually the bills add clarification to a currently subjective scenario. Instead of leaving the just use of force open to interpretation it more strongly clarifies when force can legally be used. As I stated before “reasonable” is a subjective and as much subjectivity as possible should be removed from law.

Our legislators would better serve if they paid heed to the positions of Minnesota’s Police Chiefs, rank-and-file law enforcement officers and our state’s County Attorney’s Association, all of which adamantly oppose this bill.


Why would they be better served?

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