JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The first of two “stand your ground” measures has been heard in a House committee. Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, presented HB 1744 to the Emerging Issues Committee Monday evening in order, he said, to ensure that people “have the right to protect yourself against an imminent threat to your life or others.”

“This isn’t about making it to where it’s the Wild Wild West here in Missouri,” he said. We don’t have a perfect justice system, no doubt, but I believe in the ability to protect yourself…The police can’t be everywhere all the time.”

Currently in Missouri, a person can defend themselves with the use of deadly force in a public place or where they have a legal right to be if and only if they first make an effort to retreat to resolve a conflict with another person. A stand your ground law would remove that “retreat first” requirement, which supporters of such measures say is a good thing.

Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, listens to Kerry Messer from Missourians for Personal Safety testify on behalf of his bill.
Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, listens to Kerry Messer from Missourians for Personal Safety testify on behalf of his bill.

“To have the requirement to retreat is simply bad policy,” said Kerry Messer of Missourians for Personal Safety during his testimony. “A person should not be forced to retreat. There is no self-defense training course that tells people to run away.”

The National Rifle Association also testified in favor of the bill, but Brattin was quick to say it was not just a gun rights measure. He argued it could also apply to any other weapon.

However, the bill has its detractors as well, particularly on the Left, who fear that a more expedient use of deadly force could lead to more shooting deaths.

“I worry about the unintended consequences,” Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City, said. “I don’t think the sky’s going to fall, I just think someone’s going to end up dead that shouldn’t.”

Becky Morgan from the Missouri chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America cited data from Texas A&M University that homicides increased by eight percent in states with stand your ground legislation.

“It emboldens people to have a shoot first, ask questions later mentality,” she said.

LaFaver and Rep. Sharon Pace, D-St. Louis, then struck upon exactly such a scenario, one which gave stand your ground laws national attention.

“Two words: Trayvon Martin,” Pace said.

Martin was the black Florida teenager killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman who was acquitted of homicide on the grounds that he acted in self-defense. The case made national news in 2012 due to the controversial nature of the killing and the fact that Zimmerman used Florida’s stand your ground law to prevent his arrest by local authorities.

Though not a member of the committee, Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, one of the staunchest gun control advocates in the legislature, criticized Brattin for his choice of words when describing his need for action.

The bill will likely be voted on in executive session in the next two weeks.