- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

DALLAS — Texas legislators have sent to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk a bill that allows people to use deadly force against attackers outside their homes under a much broader range of circumstances than current law allows, including in defense of their cars or businesses.

There is little doubt Mr. Perry will sign the bill, which broadens the scope of self-defense claims in homicide cases, because it passed unanimously (30-0) in the Texas Senate last week and by a 133-13 margin with no debate in the House on Tuesday. And he publicly has praised the Legislature for passing it.

The self-defense legislation, proponents claim, strengthens a resident’s right to defend his home and harkens back to the state law before it was changed 33 years ago. The bill has been called the “Castle Doctrine,” from the age-old feeling that a man’s home is his castle and that he has a total right to defend it.

Opponents, including some prosecutors, claim the new legislation, which for the first time includes the right to protect oneself in a vehicle and the workplace, fosters a “shoot first and ask questions later” mentality.

“With the enactment of this bill, law-abiding Texas citizens can defend themselves against criminal attack in their home, car or business without having to worry they will be prosecuted,” said Republican Rep. Joe Driver of Garland, the lead sponsor in the House.

In 1973, in revising the state’s criminal code, the Legislature made it mandatory for a person under criminal attack to retreat “if a reasonable person would do so” under similar circumstances. A dozen years ago, the state body amended that, adding that a victim need not retreat if the confrontation occurred in his home.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Perry, Krista Moody, yesterday called this legislation “an important move to ensure Texans have the right to defend themselves when it counts the most.” The National Rifle Association strongly backed the legislation, along with most Republicans in the Legislature.

“Law-abiding citizens now have the choice to defend themselves and their families in the face of attack, knowing their decision will not be second-guessed by the state of Texas,” said Chris W. Cox, chief lobbyist for the NRA.

A secondary facet of the bill protects a person from being sued by his attacker, or the attacker’s family, for injuries if the shooter was deemed to have been acting in self-defense.

A third element is troublesome to some prosecutors and gun-control advocates. The bill would protect a person acting in self-defense if he or she was not breaking the law at the time, did not provoke the attack or had reason to believe that the other person wanted to rape, kidnap, kill or rob him.

Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said he worried that the bill might “create a new presumption of self-defense” that might aid criminals. He called the bill a solution looking for a problem.

Texas is not the first state to broaden its self-defense exception in recent years. In 2005, Florida passed a “stand your ground” law that permits licensed adults to use their firearms to defend themselves and others against serious or life-threatening attacks.

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, the San Antonio Republican who guided the bill through his chamber, said he never liked the previous wording that required a victim to retreat.

“I do not believe that the law should require me to wait and decide if someone who is breaking into my home or office or attempting to hijack my car intends to harm me or a member of my family,” he said last year.

“The law,” he added, “should allow me to use immediate force to protect myself, my family and my property without fear of being charged with a crime or being sued.”

Another bill, one that would let employees keep concealed weapons locked in their vehicles at work, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, but might have some difficulty gaining passage. Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, said that bill violates an employer’s property rights and go against the employer’s legal duty to maintain a safe workplace.

“Easy access to a weapon could create a serious problem in the workplace,” he said.

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