|N.R.A.’s Influence Seen in Expansion of Self-Defense Laws nytimes.com |
[ in which the story hits the national rag. As if ALEC wasn't noxious enough by themselves, they've apparently found a suitable noxious partner to push their crap through. Note the lead example, my beloved home state, where the legislature under the Walkeristan administration has yet to find an ALEC initiative they weren't willing to ram through, in the dead of night if necessary. ]
By ERICA GOODE
No one had yet heard of a Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin when a group of Wisconsin Republicans got together last year to discuss expanding a self-defense bill before the State Legislature.
The bill, known as the Castle Doctrine, made it harder to prosecute or sue people who used deadly force against an intruder inside their house. But the Wisconsin legislators, urged on by the National Rifle Association in a series of meetings, wanted it to go further. They crafted an amendment that extended the bill’s protections to include lawns, sidewalks and swimming pools outside the residence, as well as vehicles and places of business.
That expanded bill, passed with little debate by the Legislature and signed in December by Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, is the newest of more than two dozen so-called Stand Your Ground statutes that have been enacted around the country in recent years. Those laws are now coming under increased scrutiny after Mr. Martin was shot to death by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, in late February. Similar legislation is pending in several other states, including Alaska, Massachusetts and New York.
The laws, which expand beyond the home the places where a person does not have a duty to retreat when threatened and increases protection from criminal prosecution and civil liability, vary in their specifics and in their scope. But all contain elements of the 2005 Florida statute that made it difficult to immediately arrest Mr. Zimmerman, who has claimed he shot Mr. Martin, who was unarmed, in self-defense.
Critics see the laws as part of a national campaign by the National Rifle Association, which began gathering on Thursday for its annual meeting in St. Louis, to push back against limits on gun ownership and use. That effort, they say, has been assisted by conservative legislators in states like Wisconsin, and by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has promoted model legislation based on Florida’s law; the council, known as ALEC, is a conservative networking organization made up of legislators, corporations like Walmart, a large retailer of long guns, and interest groups like the rifle association.
The success of the campaign is reflected in the rapid spread of expanded self-defense laws as well as laws that legalize the carrying of concealed weapons — only one state, Illinois, and the District of Columbia now ban that practice, compared with 19 states in 1981. Bills pending in several states that would allow concealed weapons to be carried on college campuses, in churches, in bars or other at sites would further weaken restrictions, as would either of two federal bills, now in the Senate, that would require that a concealed carry permit granted by any state be honored in all other states.
“Both directly and with cutouts like ALEC, the N.R.A. is slowly and surely and methodically working at the state level to expand the number and kind and category of places where people can carry concealed, loaded weapons and use them with deadly force,” said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan coalition of more than 650 mayors that has not taken a position on the Stand Your Ground laws.
Repeated requests to speak with N.R.A. officials about Wisconsin’s law or Stand Your Ground laws more generally met with no response.
In Wisconsin, as in other states, the passage of an expanded self-defense law was helped by the 2010 elections, which vaulted conservative Republicans into office. In Pennsylvania, for example, a Stand Your Ground law passed the Legislature in 2010 but was vetoed by Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat. Introduced again last year, the bill was signed by his Republican successor, Tom Corbett.
In Wisconsin, a narrower version of the legislation had languished and died in previous sessions. But with Republicans now dominating both houses of the Legislature and a Republican governor, several state lawmakers said that the success of the bill and the expansion amendment promoted by the N.R.A. seemed assured.
“I think it’s only normal they assumed this could be their year,” said Representative Dean Kaufert, a Republican who introduced the legislation, speaking of the rifle association.
Darren LaSorte, a lobbyist for the rifle association, wanted the legislation, like Florida’s law, to extend protection to any place that a person had a legal right to be, said several Republican lawmakers who met with Mr. LaSorte. But having been successful in getting an earlier bill passed to allow the carrying of concealed weapons, Mr. LaSorte accepted a compromise.
“It was almost a ‘we’ll take what we can get’ kind of mode,” Mr. Kaufert said. In its final form, the law contained language that closely tracked some parts of the Florida bill.
In a legislative alert on its Web site, the N.R.A. asked members to “please express your support for this critically important self-defense legislation” and for “N.R.A.-recommended amendments to these bills in order to make the final product a stronger law.”
The bill, the association said in the alert, “ensures that you don’t have to second-guess yourself when defending your home from intruders.”
“It also provides civil immunity for good citizens who are acting defensively against violence.”
In 2011, the N.R.A. spent $97,701 and 627 hours lobbying or engaging in other activities in Wisconsin on behalf of the self-defense law and the concealed carry law, according to the state legislature Web site.
But as in other states, the most powerful weapon the rifle association wielded in Wisconsin was political, not financial. In a state with more than 620,000 registered hunters, the ratings the association gives to legislators could have significant impact on their political fortunes, particularly in the northern part of the state.
“A lot of politicians are apprehensive to go against the initiatives of the National Rifle Association,” said Nick Milroy, a Democrat from northern Wisconsin who voted for the concealed carry bill but against the Castle Doctrine. “For a lot of people who are very particular about their gun rights, anything less than an ‘A’ rating is an antigun stance.”
Senator Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat, called the bill a substantial victory for the N.R.A. in the Midwest, where guns have a less central place say than Texas. “The N.R.A. did very well for themselves in Wisconsin,” he said.
Mr. Erpenbach said he would have voted for the original self-defense bill, which placed a heavier burden on prosecutors in self-defense cases but limited the protection to inside a residence. But he drew the line at the amendment expanding the legislation, he said.
“Who in their right mind could be asking for something like this?” he said he remembers thinking when the measure hit the Senate floor, amendment attached. “If someone takes a late-night dip in your swimming pool, does that mean you should shoot them?”
The fact that the amendment was added by the Assembly Committed on Judiciary and Ethics after the public hearing on the bill, he and others said, prevented it from getting much public attention. And with challenges to collective bargaining, requirements for voter identification and other controversial proposals before them, legislators had a lot on their minds.
“There wasn’t a tremendous amount of debate,” Mr. Erpenbach said.
In fact, at the public hearing, some groups expressed strong opposition even to the far more restricted language of the original legislation. Gregory O’Meara, speaking for the Wisconsin Bar Association’s criminal division, said that the division’s judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers unanimously opposed the bill as unnecessary and potentially problematic. Wisconsin’s existing law, he said, was already stronger than most states, placing the burden of proof on the prosecution to show that a person was not acting in self-defense.
Jeff Nass, president of WI-FORCE, a Wisconsin gun rights group that works with the N.R.A., and who carries a Glock 20 semiautomatic handgun at all times — “It’s a large pistol, but I’m a large person,” he said — testified in favor of the bill.
Prosecutors and law professors, Mr. Nass said in a phone interview, “can sit back and analyze in the safety of their chambers what you did and if you did the right thing, but if I kick down your door in the middle of the night, are you going to be worried about it?”
Representative Scott Suder, the Republican majority leader, participated in meetings to craft the amendment and said the bill’s expansion was not “driven by any group or organization” but came at the urging of other legislators and their constituents.
“We came up with a compromise that did include your car in addition to your home, and that was a fair compromise,” Mr. Suder said. “We didn’t go as far as some wanted to.”
But some legislators said they wondered who those constituents were, other than the N.R.A. The Castle Doctrine legislation, they said, was one of a series of bills that seemed to appear out of nowhere as part of some national agenda, rather than arising from concerns of Wisconsin residents.
Said Janet Bewley, a Democrat in Northern Wisconsin who voted for the concealed carry bill but against the self-defense law: “I never heard anyone in this state crying out, ‘We must have the Castle Doctrine.’ ”