Bill would allow deadly force against carjackers
Lawmakers consider extending self-defense outside homes
By Richard Locker
February 14, 2007
NASHVILLE -- Spurred by violent crime in Memphis and elsewhere, Tennessee legislators have filed several bills to expand the legal rights of people to use deadly force when threatened by would-be attackers.
One would specifically allow people in motor vehicles to kill or "cause serious bodily injury" to attackers -- both inside or outside the vehicle -- who they believe are threatening to murder, rape, kidnap, rob or carjack the car's occupants.
That bill was filed Rep. Ulysses Jones and Sen. Reginald Tate, both Memphis Democrats. "I've heard a lot of support for this. It's time to give citizens the opportunity to protect themselves. Right now, we're at the mercy of what I call 'scum'," Jones, a Memphis Fire Department paramedic, said Tuesday.
Another bill by Jones and Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland, would extend the right of business owners or their security guards to use deadly force inside or immediately outside their businesses, against a person who "unlawfully and forcibly" enters or attempts to enter, if they have a "reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or serious bodily injury" to themselves, employees or customers.
Those two proposals are among 11 bills filed through Tuesday that would extend rights of citizens to defend themselves outside of their homes. Current Tennessee law allows residents to use deadly force against someone who breaks into their homes while they're at home; there's a legal presumption that an intruder intends to cause occupants harm.
Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. William Gibbons, who was in the State Capitol Tuesday meeting with lawmakers on other matters, said he "conceptually supports" legislation such as Jones' anti-carjacking bill but couldn't comment on it specifically because he hadn't seen it.
Several of the newly filed bills would enact "no-retreat" laws, permitting the use of deadly force in self-defense against would-be malefactors that a citizen believes is threatening to attack them. The National Rifle Association has pushed similar laws in other states, and won approval of one in Florida in 2005 that says citizens have no duty to back down from an attacker before firing a weapon.
Jones said he filed his two bills because crime in Memphis and elsewhere leaves people feeling vulnerable. He said he hopes people will seek proper training before using the force the bills would -- if signed into law -- authorize.
Tennessee's gun-carry laws require people to undergo firearms training with certified instructors before being issued permits.
Other Memphis area lawmakers who have filed bills expanding the legal authority for self-defense with deadly force include Sens. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, Paul Stanley, R-Germantown, and Roy Herron, D-Dresden.
All of the bills are expected to undergo close scrutiny and face an uphill battle becoming law. No law can be enacted without approval of both the Senate and House of Representatives, and ultimately the governor.
-- Richard Locker: (615) 255-4923
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