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GOP Moves To Expand Definition Of Justifiable Homicide In Nevada

Assemblywoman Shelly Shelton spent much of her testimony telling anecdotes like this:

"In 2010 in January, Jerald Young defended himself against three men. It was clear from video surveillance he was trying to get away from them, but Mr. Young  was charged with multiple charges, and it took him years to be acquitted by a jury." 

That's why Shelton, a Republican from Vegas, is sponsoring this legislation that would expand the definition of justifiable homicide, or, put another way, it extends the Castle Doctrine to motor vehicles; that means a person would have the right to kill someone in self-defense during, say, a carjacking. If found not guilty, that person, who used self-defense, would be protected from civil liability. 

Shelton calls the bill a clarification of existing laws and says it's sorely needed. 

"Nevadans want to know that the law is behind them. They wont spend years defending themselves in court from those whose criminal actions caused their own demise."

But Democrats and civil liberties groups oppose the bill and say it's akin to a Stand Your Ground law. 

Vanessa Spinazola is with the American Civil Liberties Union. 

"By expanding this, we are basically encouraging a kind of shoot first and figure out later what happened scenario. The courts are the best place for that to be discovered. If you do engage in self-defense under current law, that will be brought out in court."

Not so, say proponents of the bill. They argue  the law doesn't simply open up the door for people to shoot anyone near their car, as Megan Bedera of the Nevada Firearms Coalition explains.

"This [the circumstances under which someone can use deadly force] is knowing that there was a felony taking place."

Despite that point, Democrats, like James Ohrenschall of Vegas, say this law could have wider ramifications than just protecting victims of carjacking, including increasing the number of fatal shootings.

"When states pass laws like this, there is a racially disparate  impact...that if the shooter is Caucasian, oftentimes, it's found to be justifiable. And when it's an African-American, the shooting is found not to be."

This bill is one of many this session that would expand gun rights in Nevada. For example, a bill on campus carry will be heard Thursday morning. 

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.