Kurt Schaefer doesn’t understand what prosecutors do, pushes for stand your ground in Missouri
As a rule, prosecutors don’t like so-called “stand your ground” gun laws — those that allow citizens to use lethal force in the face of a perceived threat without first attempting to retreat. Such laws, according to the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, “may inhibit the ability of law enforcement and prosecutors to hold violent criminals accountable; may encourage vigilante behavior; and, in some circumstances, may put law enforcement lives at greater risk.”
The APA, a national organization, issued that statement after George Zimmerman shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin four years ago in Florida, a stand-your-ground state. That episode and its broad fallout took much of the luster off the stand-your-ground movement. Once on every pro-gun state legislator’s to-do list, new stand-your-ground bills have mostly gathered dust the past few years.
Kurt Schaefer, a Missouri senator vying to become the state’s top prosecutor, must have missed that memo.
Even as he is waging an intense campaign to win the Republican nomination for attorney general, Schaefer is pushing legislation that would make Missouri the first state in five years to pass a stand-your-ground law.
He proposed an expansion of Missouri’s self-defense law as a stand-alone bill earlier this session, and recently succeeded in attaching its provisions to a larger crime bill as an amendment. The Senate passed the bill, which now awaits action by the House.
To push legislation that could jeopardize public safety is not unusual for Schaefer. Two years ago, he guided a poorly worded constitutional amendment, guaranteeing expanded gun rights, through the General Assembly. Missouri prosecutors were appalled, but voters passed it — leading to legal action over whether certain persons with felony convictions could carry guns. The state Supreme Court eventually overturned a lower court’s ruling and ruled against the felons.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker hasn’t forgotten the fracas over Constitutional Amendment 5, and she isn’t happy about the prospect of a stand-your-ground law in Missouri.
“Sen. Schaefer played the same politics with Amendment 5, all at the expense of our communities,” she tells The Pitch. “He offers no support from public-safety advocates or prosecutors who protect this community every day.”
Schaefer’s new gift to the gun lobby would expand Missouri’s “castle doctrine” law, which allows lethal force to defend one’s home and property against an intruder. If his amendment becomes law, a citizen could use a bullet to respond to a perceived threat without first attempting to retreat in any place “he or she has a right to be.” That means not just at home but on a street or in a shop — or just about anywhere.
Should someone be killed or wounded and the case go to trial, the burden would be on prosecutors to prove that a citizen did not feel threatened enough to justify the use of deadly force. Current law requires defendants to show that they did experience a viable threat.
It’s pretty easy to see why prosecutors think a law like this has the potential to get innocent people killed and create firestorms like the Trayvon Martin case.
But Schaefer, who seems to think that the best way to become Missouri’s attorney general is to push the limits on hot-button issues like abortion and guns, apparently isn’t worried about making that job more difficult should he obtain it. He argues instead that citizens should be able to focus on self-defense without fearing the legal consequences of their actions.
Schaefer’s provocative sponsorship of a stand-your-ground law is only the latest reason for Missourians to doubt his fitness for the office he seeks.
Let’s set aside, for now, his witch hunt against Planned Parenthood. Let’s also save for another day the allegations that he tried to pressure University of Missouri system officials to deny a sabbatical leave to law professor Josh Hawley, who also wants the GOP nomination for attorney general.
Let’s look at an actual criminal case.
In March, Pablo Serrano-Vitorino was charged with first-degree murder, following a killing spree that took the lives of four men in Kansas City, Kansas, and one man in New Florence, Missouri.
Schaefer, the man who aspires to be Missouri’s attorney general, took to Twitter with a wildly irresponsible message. Superimposed on a doctored photo of the suspect, he declared: “this monster should be tried and executed in Missouri, by Missouri. Period.”
Sure. Let’s get right to the execution. Who cares about the right to a fair trial and little things like the U.S. Constitution?
The Missouri Supreme Court’s rules of professional conduct say prosecutors should “refrain from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused…” As guidelines for well-trained, high-profile, taxpayer-backed lawyers go, that one seems pretty obvious. But Schaefer’s tweet manages to violate just about every individual word of it.
Paradoxically, even voters drawn to the biblical fury of Schaefer’s tweet should think twice about their candidate. With that outburst, he demonstrated a prejudice that would be highly problematic should Schaefer become Missouri’s attorney general and should his office inherit the Serrano-Vitorino case. He can’t secure a conviction if his remarks have precluded him from participating in a trial.
Schaefer just keeps providing reasons for voters to stand their ground against him.