POLITICS

Nevada GOP Pushes New Gun Law Reminiscent Of 'Stand Your Ground'

02/26/2015 06:36 pm ET | Updated Feb 26, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- A Nevada state Senate committee considered a controversial package of gun-rights provisions on Wednesday, just a day before the third anniversary of Trayvon Martin's death.

The Nevada legislation includes a provision that would allow people who feel threatened in their cars to defend themselves using deadly force; a provision that would grant immunity from civil lawsuits when a shooting is ruled justified; and a provision that would allow people with a concealed weapon permit from any state to carry their weapon in Nevada for up to 60 days. It also includes a provision that would make it illegal for anyone convicted of domestic violence to own a gun.

Critics say the first provision would expand the scope of the state's "stand your ground" law. Republican Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, the bill's sponsor, rejected that characterization during a state Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, saying that the provision merely clarifies existing "castle doctrine," under which a person has no obligation to retreat before using deadly force if a conflict takes place in their home.

"[The bill is intended] to allow law-abiding gun owners to appropriately defend themselves in their vehicles as they can in their homes, and to ensure that our citizens' Second Amendment rights are upheld in a fair, uniform way across the state," Roberson said at the hearing.

Twenty-three states have passed "stand your ground" laws -- statutes that allow people to use deadly force in public places if they fear for their life, even if they can avoid the conflict by safely leaving the area, and regardless of whether the alleged aggressor is armed. A 2013 report from Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy organization, showed that in states that passed "stand your ground" laws between 2005 and 2007, the following years saw a 53 percent average increase in homicides deemed justifiable. Meanwhile, in states that didn't pass any "stand your ground" laws between '05 and '07, there was a 5 percent decrease in justifiable homicides in subsequent years.

Research has shown that for white people in "stand your ground" states, killing a black person is much more likely to be deemed "justifiable" than killing a fellow white person.

At Wednesday's hearing, a debate erupted over how to define the vehicle measure. Lucy McBath -- the mother of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, a black Florida teen whom an armed white man shot and killed in a dispute over loud music in 2012 -- said the provision would encourage a culture of shooting first and asking questions later.

"These laws embolden individuals to settle conflicts by reaching for their firearms, instead of using their words," McBath said in testimony against the legislation. "Nevada already has a 'stand your ground' law that allows someone to kill another person to defend him- or herself, even if there is a safe and easy way to avoid the conflict."

McBath added that the new legislation "would make this bad law even worse by creating a legal presumption that shooters on their property or in their cars are justified in their use of deadly force."

When Davis was killed, many compared his case to that of Martin, a black teen who was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, three years ago this Thursday. Martin was 17.

In an interview with The Huffington Post Thursday, Nevada Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford (D) said that he couldn't support the bill no matter how it is labeled. Ford, who is black, said that he has had to explain to his four sons how "stand your ground" laws put their lives at risk.

"I think that there’s certainly a disagreement as to whether this is an extension of 'stand your ground' doctrine -- the terms have been used interchangeably," said Ford. "You could call it 'stand your ground,' you could call it 'castle doctrine,' you could call it Spam. But the truth is, this bill presents a problem when you expand the definition of justifiable homicide to include the protection of a vehicle."

Ford accused Republicans of having "co-opted" the domestic violence provision from his own party in order to make the overall package more appealing.

"That’s been the modus operandi for the Senate Republicans in this building. They’ve done this before," he said. "They defiled the protections, the concepts, and included all these controversial, right-wing gun-related issues that run the risk of defeating the bill."

Republicans took control of the Nevada legislature in last year's midterm elections, giving the party the ability to immediately initiate legislative action on gun rights and voter identification, among other issues.

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