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Coleman Aims to Modify "Stand Your Ground" Law

Current state law allows Texans to use lethal force out of fear or prejudice with deadly consequences, state Rep. Garnet Coleman said Thursday. The Houston Democrat will try again to tighten the rules.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston speaks at a press conference on Feb. 19, 2015.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, will try again to tighten the rules on when Texans can use lethal force in self defense, arguing that current law encourages people to act upon fear and prejudice with deadly consequences.

House Bill 1627, filed by Coleman on Thursday, would allow lethal force only if a person is in danger and cannot safely retreat, unless they are in their homes.

Texas' existing “Stand Your Ground” provision allows a person to use lethal force in self-defense with no duty to retreat when the person has the “right to be present at the location where the force is used.” Coleman's bill allows that broader, no-retreat right only “in the person's own habitation,” which includes their home and property. 

"This bill reaffirms the right to defend yourself in your home," Coleman said at a press conference Thursday. "But it would change the law back to where if you are somewhere else, and you can avoid the circumstances ... [you] cannot use deadly force towards someone they perceive to be dangerous."

Currently, at least 22 states do not include a duty to retreat before using lethal force in their self-defense laws, similar to those in Texas and Florida, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 2013, Coleman filed a similar bill that failed to gain traction. His bill will face similar opposition in the Republican-controlled House this year.

In 1995, Texas removed the duty to retreat in one's home with a law known as the “Castle Doctrine,” referring to a person's right to act as the king or queen of his or her property. In 2007, the state passed a law that made the Castle Doctrine redundant. It removed the duty to retreat, not just in one’s home, workplace or car, but anywhere a person has the right to be. Coleman was one of 13 representatives who voted against the 2007 provision.

A major drive behind this bill, Coleman explained, is the way that the current Stand Your Ground laws have led to the disproportional targeting of minorities, specifically black males.

"We have seen an uptick in shootings based on the passage of these bills across the country," said Coleman, referring to a Texas A&M University study that showed an increase in homicides in states with Stand Your Ground laws. "The perception that people have of young men of color is that they are dangerous by default. It puts a target on their back."

State Stand Your Ground laws drew national attention and scrutiny following the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012. A poll released last July showed that 45 percent of Americans supported Stand Your Ground laws, believing they improve public safety. While Coleman is aware of the opposition his bill will face in the House, he said he believes it is a discussion that state legislators need to have. 

"You never give up, what you do is chip away," Coleman said. "This is about creating an understanding of why something doesn't work. And sometimes it takes time."

Disclosure: Texas A&M University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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