Missouri Republican’s bill would give killers immunity if they just claim self-defense

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·3 min read

Let’s call Missouri Senate Bill 666 what it is: state-approved violence, or the “Make Murder Legal Act,” as Dan Patterson, president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, calls it.

State Sen. Eric Burlison, a Republican lawmaker from near Springfield, wants to give qualified immunity to suspected murderers.

Here’s his proposed law: “A person who uses or threatens to use force in self-defense is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless such force was used against a law enforcement officer who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the person reasonably knew or should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer.”

Burlison believes it is OK for a person to use physical or deadly force by simply fearing for their life — a “presumption of reasonableness,” his bill calls it. The proposed law prohibits police from even detaining those suspected of violence. In effect, killers would be rewarded.

And he’s not the only supporter. The measure has already advanced to the Missouri Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee.

Burlison’s intent is to strengthen the state’s “stand your ground” law, which gives Missourians legal protection to defend themselves. The law already allows a person to use force to neutralize a perceived threat. A person has no duty to retreat, but does have the burden to prove he or she reasonably believed physical or deadly force was necessary to protect himself or others.

Senate Bill 666 would place the burden on prosecutors to disprove a self-defense claim. In other words, anyone who has a reasonable fear of another person can shoot first, claim self defense and never have to answer questions or spend time in jail. The bill would also prevent a victim’s family from pursuing civil remedies.

Social justice activists and law enforcement officials from around the state stand firmly against the measure, which would be a disaster for public safety.

Stand your ground laws do little to improve public safety, research has shown. In some states, violence has increased because of enhanced self defense measures. And it’s hard to ignore the racial disparities associated with these laws. Not only are Black men more likely to be killed by someone claiming self defense, but they are also more likely to be arrested and tried for murder despite claims of self defense.

The proposal, if approved, would jeopardize Black, rural and faith communities by literally legalizing murder in more cases and diminishing prosecution of violent crime, civil rights advocate say.

Justin King, 28, was fatally shot by a white neighbor at a trailer court in Bourbon, a rural town southwest of St. Louis. The neighbor claimed self defense and was never charged. King’s family believes the shooting was racially motivated. An inquest found no crime had occurred.

Missouri had the second-highest homicide rate in the nation in 2020, and now Burlison wants to make it easier to shoot first. The Second Amendment was not designed to give violent criminals or anyone else a license to kill, but Burlison’s bill would do exactly that.