Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has a life or death decision to make.
Last week the state’s legislature passed a bill that would dramatically increase the rights of gun owners in the state. The legislation now awaits Nixon’s signature — or his veto.
If Nixon signs the bill, he will practically be ensuring that more Missouri residents will die from gun violence.
The new law would allow most Missouri residents to carry a concealed weapon without completing the training currently required to receive a permit. It would expand the state’s castle doctrine to permit invited guests in one’s home, such as babysitters, to use deadly force. And most controversially, it would create a “stand your ground” provision in the law. Stand your ground laws, which became infamous in the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, allow gun owners to fire their weapons, without any requirement to retreat to safety — even if retreat is possible. These laws give citizens a much greater latitude in using deadly force, to justify doing so, and thus to avoid prosecution.
In other states that have passed stand your ground laws, the results have been clear: More people have been killed by guns. According to one recent study by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, states with stand your ground laws “have experienced increased rates of overall homicides, firearm-related homicides, and ‘justifiable homicides.’” Indeed, “justifiable homicides increased by 53 percent in states with stand your ground laws, while decreasing by 5 percent in states without these laws.”
Another study done by two professors at Georgia State University suggests that the provision in the laws that gives citizens no duty to retreat is responsible for a spike in homicides.
In Florida, stand your ground laws have been used to protect drug dealers and gang members and to justify shooting victims as they lay on the ground or as they fled. In one case, the law was used to justify the shooting of an individual trying to steal a Jet Ski — an offense that is not treated as a capital crime by the criminal justice system.
Ironically, Missouri cititzens know all too well the impact of loosening gun restrictions. After legislators in 2007 relaxed the requirements for gun buyers to get a background check, the state saw a major spike in gun deaths — an increase of approximately 50 homicides and 60 suicides every year since then.
But, let’s put aside statistics for the moment. Simple common sense suggests that if states allow citizens to more easily carry weapons on their person and then loosen the restrictions on when they can fire those guns, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the result is more gun violence.
Gun owners merely need to believe that their lives are at risk — or perceive a threat — to be justified using their weapon, a stand your ground law actually encourages individuals with no training in law enforcement to become judge, jury, and executioner.
Considering the deadly impact of stand your ground laws it’s hard to figure why any state would pass such a law. In fact, since the Martin shooting in 2012, no state has done so, perhaps recognizing that giving its citizens a license to kill is not the best idea. But, if there is one truism of American politics, it is that there will always be Republican legislators (and a few Democrats) willing to do the NRA’s bidding. Gun rights advocates argue that stand your ground laws are necessary to protect ordinary citizens. Putting aside the fact that simply owning a gun makes it far more likely you or a family member will be killed by a gun, current laws provide more than enough protections for ordinary citizens who use a gun in self-defense. These laws are about normalizing gun ownership, widening gun rights at the expense of public safety, and of course, above all, helping gun manufacturers sell more weapons to fearful Americans.
For all the talk about guns in the presidential campaign, it is in state legislatures where the real action is occurring. Since the Sandy Hook massacre, most of it has been in favor of the NRA and the gun zealots who never miss an opportunity to loosen gun restrictions.
While the legislature in Missouri may be able to override Nixon’s veto, it’s far from clear that the bill’s supporters will have the votes to make that happen. So Nixon has the rare opportunity to limit the carnage and make an important stand against the NRA’s pro-gun agenda. For the good of his own citizens, he should veto this bill.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.