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Alaska Editorial: Fire discipline

Posted: April 3, 2012 - 12:05am

This editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

Alaska Rep. Mark Neuman of Wasilla is right about one thing. We shouldn’t reconsider his “stand-your-ground” bill about using deadly force in public places because of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida.

We should reconsider because the bill is unnecessary in Alaska, and could give legal leeway to gang members and other bad actors to fire at will in public places.

Neuman’s bill would allow individuals to kill in self-defense in any place they have a right to be. It’s simple, straightforward and has a frontier justice appeal until you think it through.

The bill takes away the duty to retreat if it’s safe to do so. That’s bad policy. Alaska law as it now stands does a thorough job of protecting our fundamental right to self-defense. We have no duty to retreat in our homes, on our own property, in the work place or in defense of a child or a member of our household.

Further, the duty to retreat in public places only applies if retreat is completely safe.

The duty to retreat serves justice and spares innocent lives. If we can avoid a deadly confrontation and let the professionals handle the situation, so much the better. Police, troopers and other law enforcers are trained in the use of force, from minimal to deadly, trained in situational awareness and when they can and can’t pull the trigger.

How many of us, in an escalating confrontation, can say that we’d have both the judgment to know when to shoot to kill and the marksmanship not to hit innocent bystanders?

The duty to retreat serves justice in that it makes it less likely that the punishment — death — will be way out of proportion to any offense. Think road rage and stupid arguments in bar parking lots.

Prosecutor James Fayette has pointed out in testimony and interviews that an unintended consequence of the bill is that it would make it harder to prosecute gang members and others who kill, giving them far more latitude in claiming self-defense, while doing nothing to make the rest of us safer.

He concludes Neuman’s bill is a solution in search of a problem.

He’s right.

The legal ground we stand on now is sufficient for self-defense.

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