A campaign by gun rights advocates to make it easier to use deadly force in self-defense is rapidly winning support across the country, as state after state makes it legal for people who feel their lives are in danger to shoot down an attacker - whether in a car-jacking or just on the street.
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The law has spurred debate about whether it protects against lawlessness or spurs more crime. Supporters say it's an unambiguous answer to random violence, while critics - including police chiefs and prosecutors - warn that criminals are more likely to benefit than innocent victims.
Ten states so far this year have passed a version of the law, after Florida was the first last year. It's already being considered in Arizona in the case of a deadly shooting on a hiking trail.
Supporters have dubbed the new measures "stand your ground" laws, while critics offered nicknames like the "shoot first," "shoot the Avon lady" or "right to commit murder" laws.
At its core, they broaden self-defense by removing the requirement in most states that a person who is attacked has a "duty to retreat" before turning to deadly force. Many of the laws specify that people can use deadly force if they believe they are in danger in any place they have a legal right to be - a parking lot, a street, a bar, a church. They also give immunity from criminal charges and civil liability.
The Alaska legislature recently passed a law that makes it legal for people who feel their lives are threatened to use deadly force in certain situations. What do you think about this?Respond at JuneauBlogger.com/VOXBOX here...
The campaign is simply about self-defense, said Oklahoma state Rep. Kevin Calvey, a Republican and author of the law in his state. "Law-abiding citizens aren't going to take it anymore," he said.
"It's going to give the crooks second thoughts about carjackings and things like that. They're going to get a face full of lead," Calvey said. He introduced the bill at the request of the local National Rifle Association, and it passed with overwhelmingly support: The House agreed 83-4, the Senate 39-5.
Democratic Gov. Brad Henry signed it and said: "This act will allow law-abiding Oklahomans to protect themselves, their loved ones and their property."
Besides Oklahoma, the nine other states to sign on are Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Dakota, according to the NRA.
Critics say the NRA is overstating its success. Only six of those states expanded self-defense into public places, said Zach Ragbourn, a spokesman at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. There already is a presumption in law that a person does not have to retreat in their home or car, he said.
And there have been a few high-profile defeats, too.
In New Hampshire, the measure passed the Legislature only narrowly and then was vetoed by Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who was joined by police and prosecutors.
Police Chief Nathaniel H. Sawyer Jr. of New Hampton, N.H., said the legislation addressed a problem that does not exist. In 26 years in law enforcement, he has never seen anyone wrongfully charged with a crime for self-defense, he said.
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