A campaign by gun rights advocates to make it easier to use deadly force in self-defense is rapidly winning support across the country, as state after state makes it legal for people who think their lives are in danger to shoot down an attacker, whether in a carjacking or on the street.
The law has spurred debate about whether allowing deadly force protects against lawlessness or spurs more crime. Supporters say it is an unambiguous answer to random violence, while critics — including police chiefs and prosecutors — warn that criminals are more likely to benefit than innocent victims.
Ten states this year have passed versions of the law. Florida last year became the first state to do so.
Supporters have dubbed the measures “stand your ground” laws, while critics have offered nicknames such as “shoot first,” “shoot the Avon lady” or “right to commit murder” laws.
The laws broaden self-defense by removing the requirement in most states that a person who is attacked has a “duty to retreat” before turning to deadly force. Many of the laws specify that people can use deadly force if they think they are in danger in any place they have a legal right to be — a parking lot, a street, a bar, a church. They also give immunity from criminal charges and civil liability.
The campaign is simply about self-defense, said Oklahoma state Rep. Kevin Calvey, a Republican and author of the law in his state. “Law-abiding citizens aren’t going to take it anymore,” he said.
“It’s going to give the crooks second thoughts about carjackings and things like that. They’re going to get a face full of lead,” Mr. Calvey said. He introduced the bill at the request of the local National Rifle Association (NRA). The vote was 83-4 in the House and 39-5 in the Senate.
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, signed the legislation. The nine other states to sign on are Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Dakota, the NRA reports.
Critics say the NRA is overstating its success. Only six of those states expanded self-defense into public places, said Zach Ragbourn, a spokesman at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. There already is a presumption in law that a person does not have to retreat in his or her home or car, he said.
A few high-profile defeats also have resulted.
In New Hampshire, the measure passed the Legislature only narrowly and then was vetoed by Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat.
The bill would have allowed a person “to use deadly force in response to non-deadly force, even in public places such as shopping malls, public streets, restaurants and churches,” Mr. Lynch said when he vetoed the legislation. Existing law already gives citizens the right to protect themselves, he said.
The NRA argues that victims wind up with an unfair burden if the law, as it does in New Hampshire, requires a duty to retreat, if possible. “That does crime victims little good when they have to make a split-second decision to protect their life from violent attack by a criminal,” said Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive director.