WV legislators asked to reconsider shoot first law - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

WV legislators asked to reconsider shoot-first law

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Three months after a shooting that left a Florida teenager dead, a national campaign is asking lawmakers across the country, including those in West Virginia, to reconsider "shoot first" laws.

The Second Chance on Shoot First Campaign is a coalition of civil rights leaders, elected officials, law enforcement and other Americans attempting to raise awareness about shoot first and other gun laws. Twenty-six states, including West Virginia, have laws on the books that allow home owners to defend themselves and their property against intruders. West Virginia's law, Senate Bill 145, was passed in the 2008 legislative session.

The campaign's actions are a result of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman, who lived in the same neighborhood as Martin, shot and killed Martin, who was unarmed. Zimmerman is currently on trial in Florida, and alleges Martin attacked him first and he was acting in self defense. According to the Second Chance on Shoot First Campaign, Florida became one of the first states in the nation to pass a shoot first law. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed the bill into law in 2009. According to CBS News, Florida's law allows residents who feel threatened to "meet force with force, including deadly force if they reasonably believe it is necessary to do so." But Second Chance on First Shoot said shoot first laws don't always work. The campaign is sending letters to 4,000 lawmakers in 26 states, including all 134 members of the West Virginia Legislature.

"Twenty-six states have enacted shoot first laws since 2005, in some instances over the strong opposition of law enforcement" said the letter, written by Virginia Simmons, director of the Second Chance Campaign. "And experience has now shown that these laws encourage vigilantism, sow confusion among police and stymie prosecutors."

According to information from the West Virginia House of Delegates, SB 145 allows for "civil claims which may be properly advanced by innocent persons who injure an intruder or attacker while applying reasonable and proportionate force to fend off the attack or intrusion, consistent with West Virginia's generally established principles of self defense."

The bill passed the House of Delegates 96-1, with Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, voting against. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.

In other states, some lawmakers who initially supported shoot first laws have since changed their minds, including some legislators in Florida, according to the campaign.

"Given the way these laws have played out in practice, a number of legislators who voted for these laws have rightly changed their minds," according to Simmons' letter. "Reform efforts are already underway in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin."

Simmons' letter urges legislators to take a second look at shoot first laws and join other states in attempting to reform or repeal the law.

"We ask you to take another look at the Florida shoot firs law and its impact on the criminal justice system," Simmons wrote. "We encourage you to reconsider your support for the law and join our call for reform or repeal."

The letters were sent to West Virginia legislators May 24.

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