When legislators made that right an official law in 2008, they expanded it to permit justifiable force away from home and to protect gun owners against civil liability. Similar codes passed by at least 26 states since 2005 have become known as “stand your ground” laws.
One national group wants West Virginia and other states to repeal the law because, they say, it creates racial bias and difficulties in prosecution. Supporters, however, say the law has worked many times.
State Senate President Jeff Kessler said last week that there is no plan to change or repeal West Virginia’s law, despite more talk about the subject.
“The existing law is appropriate and adequate and, quite frankly, I don’t see any reason to water it down or to look at it,” said Kessler, a Marshall County Democrat who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when the law was passed.
(WV State Capital, taylor)
Members of the Second Chance Campaign, a national organization opposed to the laws, sent state legislators a letter last month giving them reasons to repeal the law.
“This law escalates everyday conflicts into deadly confrontations and makes it difficult to prosecute when someone makes a self-defense claim,” said Christopher Brown, campaign spokesman.
Brown pointed to the shooting death of 17-year-old Florida resident Trayvon Martin at the hands of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and a jury must decide if the shooting was justifiable under Florida’s stand-your-ground law.
Kessler said he read the letter but doesn’t give it much merit.
“The West Virginia version of [the law] does give prosecutorial discretion, in that it has to be ‘reasonable and proportional,’” he said. “It’s hard to define under each case, but the prosecutor makes the ultimate decision whether to charge or not.”
Brown, though, said the law creates disconnect in the way self-defense claims are prosecuted.
“People, not just prosecutors and judges, typically find the laws’ language to be vague.” Brown said. “Research in Florida shows that no prosecutors really have the same idea, and judges do not always have the same idea. It leads to some adverse results.”
Kessler said the law protects people such as a Wheeling pharmacy employee who shot and killed an armed robber in May. Prosecutors said the employee used justifiable force and did not press charges.
The law also protected a Brooke County storeowner who shot and killed a man during a break-in last December, Kessler said. Prosecutors didn’t press charges against the owner, even though the man was unarmed.