Republicans push 'shoot first' gun protections for all Americans

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Gun control advocates say such laws are a threat to public safety.

So-called "stand your ground" laws, which make it easier for people who have shot someone to claim self-defense, have been enacted in dozens of states. Now, after the high-profile acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in Wisconsin on charges that included homicide, House Republicans are pushing to make "stand your ground" federal law.

On Monday, Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz introduced H.R. 6248, a bill he says would "codify Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law at the federal level, abolishing the duty of retreat when attacked."

As of Tuesday, six of Gaetz's Republican colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors: Reps. Louie Gohmert (TX), Paul Gosar (AZ), Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA), Markwayne Mullin (OK), Greg Steube (FL), and Randy Weber (TX).

According to the anti-gun-violence organization Everytown for Gun Safety, the movement to give gun owners the legal right to shoot someone first, without an obligation to walk away from an altercation even if they can do so safely, "began in 2005 when the National Rifle Association (NRA) helped draft and pass Stand Your Ground legislation in Florida in an attempt to make the purchase and use of guns more attractive." With the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council pushing to spread such laws, the model has now been adopted in 29 states.

In a press release, Gaetz argued that a national law similar to Florida's was vital to protecting Americans' rights: "Like Kyle Rittenhouse, every American has the right to defend their life from an attacker. If someone tries to kill you, you should have the right to return fire and preserve your life. Let's reaffirm in law what exists in our Constitution and in the hearts of our fellow Americans. Abolish the legal duty of retreat everywhere."

Rittenhouse, then a 17-year-old from Illinois, traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the summer of 2020 during protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer. While there, during a protest, Rittenhouse killed two men and wounded a third with a semi-automatic rifle. He was charged with homicide, attempted homicide, and reckless endangerment in the shootings, but was acquitted on Nov. 19 of this year after claiming he acted in self-defense.

The organization Giffords notes, "Wisconsin does not have a stand your ground law. The state's case law allows juries to consider a failure to retreat when evaluating the necessity of a person's use of force in public." The state provides enhanced legal protections for shooters who claim self-defense.

Gaetz and other GOP lawmakers made Rittenhouse a right-wing celebrity and even offered him internship positions in their congressional offices.

But while Gaetz is now trying to export his state's approach, critics say such laws are a threat to public safety.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence calls them "Shoot First" laws and notes that they have increased the number of Americans "being shot needlessly-and legally-now."

The group also calls the approach "a naked assault on the rule of law, because it divests police and the courts of the power to settle disputes, substituting a bystander or crime victim's judgment for trial by jury and the presumption of innocence."

And according to a 2020 research review by the RAND Corporation, there is evidence that "stand your ground" laws increase the total number of homicides and even more evidence that they increase homicides by firearms.

This latest GOP gun push comes as the nation has seen more than 42,000 gun violence deaths already in 2021, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and more than 660 mass shootings, defined by the archive as events in which at least four people are shot, either killed or injured.

With no Democratic co-sponsors, Gaetz's proposal is unlikely to go anywhere in the current Congress. But should Republicans win back congressional majorities next year, the prospects for passing more pro-gun legislation would likely be brighter.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.