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Proposed bill could allow people to kill without proving self-defense

Meiying Wu

Legislation that would drastically alter Missouri’s self-defense laws was debated by a Senate committee Tuesday.

Sen. Eric Burlison’s Senate Bill 666 would alter the requirement for someone to prove they used physical or deadly force in self-defense. If passed, the bill would move the burden onto the prosecutor to prove the defendant’s actions were not in self-defense.

Burlison, R-Battlefield, said the purpose of the bill is to strengthen the already existing “castle doctrine,” which allows individuals to use force in defense of themselves, their family and their property.

“And yet still, there are those who would seek to prosecute law abiding Missourians whose only “crime” is they were trying to defend themselves and or their family members,” he said.

Over a dozen members of the public spoke against the bill, including the president of Missouri’s NAACP, Nimrod Chapel Jr. He said that if the bill passes, people from all backgrounds will suffer.

“Normally I testify about issues that will impact African Americans or minorities in a greater degree or greater proportion,” Chapel said. “And there’s no doubt that this one would, but I think that what you will see in rural communities will mirror the same pain and agony that we as minorities have experienced for decades.”

Chapel told the story of Justin King, a 28-year-old man who was shot and killed by his neighbor in Crawford County. The shooter says he acted in self-defense. The case has been ruled a justifiable homicide.

“This is fundamentally the most anti-humanitarian piece of legislation that I have ever read to legalize murder,” Chapel said. “That’s what it does.”

King’s family later came forward to share their personal stories of how the loss of their son has affected them.

“I try to think of words to describe it and the only word I can come up in my mind is this bill is complete bullshit. Period, man.”
Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City

“I believe in self-defense if someone’s harmed ... if you’re at home, you know, you have the right to defend yourself,” John King, Justin’s father, said. “But if you take someone’s life, I believe you need to be able to document how that happened. I don’t believe you can just take somebody’s life and just, you know, keep on moving and take the next jet to Tahiti and sit in the sun.”

Prosecuting Attorney Russ Oliver from Stoddard County was also among those who opposed the bill. He referred to it as “Make Murder Legal Act.”
Oliver told senators that a letter has been signed by 38 members of law enforcement, including sheriffs and chiefs of police, “asking you not to pass this bill.”

Among the issues, he said, were that in murder cases, there would often be no one to contradict someone’s claim of self-defense.

“Basically what this does is make it where so long as the person is dead, you automatically have immunity, because there’s not someone else to even say what had happened,” he said.

Among those testifying in favor of the bill was Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark McCloskey, who was involved in a highly publicized case in St. Louis when he and his wife held guns and confronted protesters.

“If you’re doing nothing more than defending yourself, if you’re exercising your Second Amendment rights to self defense, your God given rights to protect yourself, you should not be prosecuted and have to defend yourself,” McCloskey said. “If the government thinks you’ve done something wrong, the burden should be placed on them.”

Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, said the bill is “a personal attack on me, it’s a personal attack on people who look like me.”

“I try to think of words to describe it and the only word I can come up in my mind is this bill is complete bullshit. Period, man.”

Xcaret Nuñez studies radio/television journalism and religious studies at the University of Missouri — Columbia.