By Arno Rosenfeld
Casper Star-Tribune/Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — A so-called “stand your ground” bill moved forward in the Wyoming Legislature on Thursday with overwhelming support. Wyoming is currently the only state that requires individuals to retreat when attacked in public.
“This bill simply says, ‘Anywhere you’re legally allowed to be, you do not have to retreat if you’re in fear for your very life,’” said Rep. Tim Salazar, R-Dubois, the measure’s sponsor.
The bill has 44 sponsors across the House and Senate, including one Democrat, and passed its introductory vote in the House with 50 in favor and eight opposed. No lawmakers spoke in opposition to the bill.
The measure provides immunity for anyone who uses “defensive force in order to prevent an injury or loss to himself or another person” so long as he or she was not doing anything illegal or trespassing when attacked. Wyoming currently considers a person to have acted in self defense if he or she “held a reasonable fear” of death or serious injury. The stand your ground bill advanced Thursday changes that definition to a “good faith belief” of danger, specifying that a person is immune from civil liability or prosecution for using force even if it turns out they were not actually facing injury or death.
“Good policy is good politics,” Salazar said. “(This bill) is simple, concise and popular.”
The measure has been assigned to committee. If it is approved in committee, it will be returned to the full House for another vote, and barring any unexpected opposition, will be sent to the Senate, where it must be approved by two-thirds of that chamber to pass.
The Senate is considering its own stand your ground bill, sponsored by Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne. That measure had yet to be voted on by the Senate and did not appear to be on the schedule for votes Thursday.
Aside from Wyoming, every state in the western United States has a stand your ground provision established either by law or through case law. Montana, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico have such laws in statute while California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Colorado have the doctrine through case law or jury instructions, according to the American Bar Association.
Advocates of such laws say that it is unreasonable to expect a person to retreat if attacked in public and that individuals should not be held liable for using force to defend themselves. Critics argue that the laws provide far too much latitude for people to shoot and kill others in public based on an unreasonable fear for their lives.