Would Stand Your Ground Laws Protect the Super Bowl Shooters?

AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann

The shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl celebration was certainly a horrific event without a doubt. One woman was left dead and nearly two dozen others sustained gunshot wounds, with more than half of those being children. Police are still investigating and trying to sort out precisely what happened during the mayhem, but four people, including two juveniles have been identified and taken in custody. Lyndell Mays, 23, and Dominic Miller, 18, both allegedly fired shots that day and have been charged with second-degree murder among other charges. But now, a controversial and worrisome theory is being put forward that may be used in their defense at trial. Missouri has a very robust and expansive stand your ground law. Their attorneys are claiming that the law in question makes their actions justifiable. If this defense winds up working, it could set a very bad precedent for the future. (AP)

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The man accused of firing the first shots at the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl rally told authorities he felt threatened, while a second man said he pulled the trigger because someone was shooting at him, according to court documents.

Experts say that even though the shooting left one bystander dead and roughly two dozen people injured, 23-year-old Lyndell Mays and 18-year-old Dominic Miller might have good cases for self-defense through the state’s “stand your ground” law.

Missouri is among more than 30 states that have adopted some version of stand your ground laws over the past two decades, said Robert Spitzer, a professor emeritus of political science at the State University of New York, Cortland, whose research focuses on gun policy and politics.

Miller was the one who shot first. He claims that he felt he was in danger because someone in another group of people yelled "I'm going to get you." His attorney claims he took that to mean 'I'm going to kill you' and he began shooting at several members of the group. Mays claims that he began firing because someone was shooting at him and his friend had already been struck in the neck. The shooting wasn't restricted to the two groups of people who were apparently in some sort of beef. Most of the people who were shot were unassociated with the groups, including the woman who died.

That detail may not wind up mattering under this theory, however. The defense attorneys are pointing out that collateral damage is allowed under Missouri's stand-your-ground law if you are engaged in legitimate self-defense. They further note that police are sometimes unable to avoid collateral damage when violence breaks out in a crowded venue. The most alarming part about all of this is that those arguments really don't sound all that crazy.

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These laws, sometimes referred to as the castle doctrine, were originally intended to allow people to defend themselves in their homes against intruders. Missouri and some other states have expanded the concept to include other scenarios outside the home. But they were never intended to serve as some sort of blanket coverage of gang violence. Imagine if the Crips and the Bloods run into each other on a busy downtown corner. Under this theory, they could say that the approach of the other gang made them feel threatened so they started blasting. And if they shoot up a bunch of random pedestrians in the process, so be it.

Assuming the police have developed an accurate timeline of events, Lyndell Mays could actually have a fairly strong defense available. If he was already under fire and his friend had taken a gunshot to the neck, he was clearly in danger. Since he was armed, he was able to draw his firearm and return fire. But Dominic Miller doesn't have that obvious of an excuse. Nobody was shooting when he said he "felt threatened." Someone may or may not have said, "I'm going to get you," but the response needs to be at least somewhat proportional, doesn't it? Firing randomly at multiple people in a crowded area in response to a verbal threat just feels as if it shouldn't fall under the protection of the law in question. If neither of these men is held accountable, I have the feeling that we're going to be seeing a lot more attempts at this sort of defense in the future following mass shootings.

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David Strom 6:40 PM | April 18, 2024
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