House Finance OKs 2 bills expanding gun rights

One bill could change the lawful use of deadly force

Posted: Friday, April 09, 2010

JUNEAU - The House Finance Committee advanced two bills Thursday to expand gun rights, despite concerns from Alaska state prosecutors.

One bill expands the lawful use of deadly force in self-defense. The other restores gun rights for some nonviolent felons. Both now go the House floor.

Current law authorizes deadly force in self-defense to stop a few specific crimes, including robbery, sexual assault, kidnapping or murder. But if people know they can safely withdraw, they're obligated to do so. That duty to retreat doesn't apply at home or the workplace.

Neuman's bill would essentially eliminate the obligation to retreat by saying that "any place where the person has a right to be" is also an authorized location - just as the home and the workplace are.

Neuman and other advocates emphasized that the bill doesn't free gun owners to shoot willy-nilly because they still would have to legally justify the use of deadly force in self-defense.

"That's the catchall," Neuman said.

Finance co-chairman Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said the bill "takes a little discretion away from the Department of Law to run someone through the legal grinder."

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said the bill may deter crime, while Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, expressed skepticism.

"I don't think many criminals are going to read the law and be deterred," Gara said.

Gara and Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, were the only voices of dissent on the committee. Gara said he doesn't want to give someone the right to needlessly shoot someone or give gang members a "convenient defense."

"I just can't support a bill that will inevitably cause more violence in society," Doogan said, echoing assistant Attorney General Annie Carpeneti's concerns.

Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, said existing statutes blocking self defense as a legal defense for gang violence may address Gara's gang concern.

The second gun rights bill advanced by the committee Thursday was introduced by Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks. It would restore full gun rights for some nonviolent felons.

State law says nonviolent felons' gun rights can be partially restored in three ways: a felon is granted a pardon, the felon's conviction is set aside, or 10 years pass after the sentence is completed, including probation and parole.

The partial restoration still prohibits handgun purchases and limits carrying concealed weapons. Carrying concealed weapons is OK at the felon's home or property, and during outdoors activities like hunting that "necessarily" involve carrying a weapon for protection.

But a 1998 U.S. Supreme Court decision has said that if felons' rights are to be restored, they're to be restored fully - or not at all.

"Because Alaska doesn't go that last little step ... these people have zero rights," said Brian Judy of the National Rifle Association.

Carpeneti said the bill may resolve legal issues for felons who've maintained clean records, but it also complicates efforts to prosecute unrelated unlawful weapons possession cases.

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