Stand your ground bill endorsed by Wyoming House panel

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A Wyoming legislative committee on Tuesday endorsed a bill that would offer protection against both criminal charges and civil lawsuits for people who defend themselves against an attacker.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 8-1 Tuesday in favor of the so-called “stand your ground” bill. House Bill 168 now goes to the full House for floor debate.

The proposal would expand the state’s “castle doctrine” law under which those who use deadly force in the home do not have to consider if it’s reasonable to retreat. Under current state law, that doctrine doesn’t apply outside the home.

In addition, the measure provides that someone “who uses reasonable defensive force may be wrong in his estimation of the danger or the force necessary to repel the danger” and that those challenging the immunity from civil action must prove that the person claiming self-defense did not use reasonable defensive force, which is defined in part as “threatened or actual use of force that a reasonable person in like circumstances would judge to be necessary.”

Proponents of the bill say the proposal strengthens the ability of people to defend themselves during an attack and helps protect them from costly civil lawsuits. Opponents say it will encourage vigilantism and could be used against victims of people who unjustly claimed they were being attacked.

Rep. Tim Salazar, the main sponsor of the bill, said the idea is to protect a person’s right to defend oneself from attack and help shield those people from financial ruin that civil liability actions can bring “because you were merely protecting your life or the life of your loved ones.”

“This is a self-defense bill,” Salazar, R-Dubois, said. “This is a bill about defending your life, your spouse, your children, your loved ones.”

About a half dozen other lawmakers and citizens testified in favor the bill.

However, the bill drew opposition from about a half dozen others, including the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association and representatives of the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“It’s bad because it encourages vigilantism and it hampers and hinders law enforcement,” Beth Howard, a member of the Moms Demand Action group. “It puts the burden of evidence on the state to try to prove whether the killing was justified or unjustified. It’s ridiculous.”

Howard, of Cheyenne, also argued that stand your ground laws do not make people safer and only increase the number of homicides.

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