COLUMBIA — The chairman of the state Legislative Black Caucus, backed by several ministers, former law enforcement officials and activists, has introduced a bill to repeal South Carolina’s “Stand your ground” law.
The bill would not do away with residents’ long-standing right to defend themselves with deadly force while inside their homes, vehicles and businesses, Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, stressed at a Thursday news conference at the Statehouse.
But the bill – which has 17 co-sponsors in addition to Mitchell – would eliminate the “Stand your ground” legal defense used by those who use a knife or gun to kill or wound people in public places, then claim they used deadly force because they feared for their lives.
“ ‘Stand your ground’ is ‘last man standing.’ What we want to do is go back and protect people in their homes, their vehicles and their place of business,” Mitchell said.
What the bill would not allow, supporters say, is the current legal defense now enjoyed by people who by mistake kill or wound innocent bystanders while defending themselves.
“As a piggyback to this legislation, there is a catch-all ... that if you fail to exercise due care in acting with the weapon, you will not be able to avail yourself of the ‘Stand your ground’ law,” said Sen. Karl Allen, D-Greenville, an attorney.
Last year in a Columbia case, a state judge ruled that a man who shot and killed an innocent bystander – a 17-year-old high-school basketball player – from his front yard at night was innocent of any wrongdoing under the state’s “Stand your ground” law.
Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson has appealed that case to the S.C. Supreme Court, which is expected to take up the question of whether a person has immunity from prosecution under “Stand your ground” after killing an innocent bystander.
Mitchell, who is under investigation for his use of campaign funds, is a fifth-term representative who is chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. Allen is a former longtime House member who is in his first Senate term.
In his remarks, Allen referred to the case of Martha Childress of Greenville, the University of South Carolina student who was shot and paralyzed while waiting for a taxi in Five Points last fall.
Allen said the man who shot Childress is going to claim immunity from prosecution under the state “Stand your ground” law.
The Rev. John Culp, a United Methodist minister who also attended the news conference, said the aggressive spirit embodied in the current law goes against Christian and moral principles.
“We cannot let fear control us,” said Culp, who is known for founding the Salkehatchie youth summer programs through which thousands of students work to repair low-income houses each year. “Stand your ground” laws “cheapen the worth of life,” he said.
The bill likely will face tough going in the Legislature, which just passed a bill that allows people to take guns into bars and restaurants.
It is also late in the legislative session, and unless a new bill has substantial backing in both chambers, it is unlikely to be passed.
Already, Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, is against it.
“I believe (‘Stand your ground’) is simply a codification of common sense,” Rutherford said. “People should have a right to defend themselves.”
Rutherford, an attorney, represents Shannon Scott, the man who a judge granted immunity from prosecution after Scott, while reacting to a perceived threat in his front yard, mistakenly killed a teen who was an innocent bystander, watching events unfold.
Rutherford also represents the 18-year-old Lexington High School graduate charged with murder in the knifing death of Da’Von Capers, an unarmed Dutch Fork High School senior, in Lexington last month.
Kierin Dennis, who Rutherford says was inside his vehicle at the time, is claiming he was standing his ground and should be immune from prosecution.
Gerald Stoudemire, president of Gun Owners of South Carolina, said later Thursday his group would oppose any effort to repeal “Stand your ground.”
“Any law-abiding citizen has the right to stand their ground, regardless of wherever they are,” said Stoudemire, whose gun rights and shooting activity group is an affiliate of the National Rifle Association.
“They are barking up the wrong tree,” Stoudemire said. “I don’t think it will pass – they don’t have enough people on that wavelength to pass a law like that.”
Mark Huguley, a former SLED major, appeared at the news conference to speak for the bill.
He said cultural stereotypes of Hollywood vigilante heroes such as the movies’ Dirty Harry have led many to think it’s OK to pull out a gun and kill someone as a first resort.
“ ‘Stand your ground’ laws have created confusion about self-defense,” Huguley said.
“Before you use deadly force, you should try to get away.”
Deatra Niles, the mother of the Columbia teen shot by mistake by Shannon Scott, said: “The guy who took his life away, he’s walking free because of the ‘Stand your ground’ law. ... My son was an innocent bystander. It don’t make no sense that you can just kill and walk away freely.”