By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A bill extending Alabama’s “stand your ground” law to churches was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, and could be considered by the full House soon.
This is the fourth time State Rep. Lynn Greer, R- Rogersville, has proposed the bill. He says many churches have repeatedly requested this law change to allow them to better protect their members during worship services.
“It’s probably the most popular piece of legislation that I have ever introduced since I’ve been in the legislature,” Greer told Alabama Daily News.
Greer explained that his bill would essentially extend Alabama’s “stand your ground” law that was passed in 2006 to also apply in places of worship.
Last year the bill passed out of the House but died in the Senate. This time, Greer says he thinks there is strong support for it in the Senate.
During the committee meeting, some lawmakers said that they did not see the need for this kind of bill in Alabama since the “stand your ground” law already allows citizens to defend themselves wherever they are.
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said that adding on stipulations was unnecessary and may ultimately cause more damage in the end.
“Our stand your ground law already covers this, so when you start adding statutes it may confuse people and they may think that they have protections that they actually don’t have which could contribute to those unintended circumstances where some life could be lost,” England said.
Many of the lawmakers on the committee are also attorneys and said that Greer’s bill could end up complicating cases where the defendant is claiming “stand your ground” status. Defendants who assert self defense are then afforded an immunity hearing which allows them to vet the evidence the prosecution has.
“So you get to identify witnesses, you get to vet evidence, and you have multiple opportunities to do that,” England said. “Say you are in the system and you are trying to stop being prosecuted for murder, you identify the evidence and the witnesses and then you can start intimidating the witnesses. The longer this takes, you start getting different statements from one point to the next so it starts watering down the case which then undermines the prosecution.”
Greer told the committee that he had top attorneys look at the law and said that even though stand your ground exists in Alabama, this stipulation for churches being able to defend themselves was necessary.
Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma, said he shared England’s belief that he saw no real need for this kind of bill in Alabama and thinks it will end up costing the state money.
“This bill is anti-prosecutorial, it places extra burden on the prosecutor, it’s pro-criminal, pro-defendant, it will drive up costs for the state, ties up prosecutorial resources and it’s already law,” Chestnut said during the meeting.
A few Republican lawmakers also spoke out against the bill like freshman Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, who said that stand your ground law does apply to those in churches and has experience to back up his claim.
“I’ve been a prosecutor for 12 years and I’ve prosecuted murder cases, I’ve prosecuted cases involving stand your ground,” Simpson said. “The implication that stand your ground does not apply to churches is incorrect.”
There was some back and forth during the meeting in which Greer explained that in order for someone to defend themselves under stand your ground, the assailant would have to be directly trying to hurt the church person with a gun. Simpson said that was not true and that stand your ground can apply to when a citizen is trying to save the life of a third party.
Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo, said that while he likes the stand your ground law he said if this bill passes he would worry about future implications of where guns could be allowed.
“What I worry about is if we start the process of saying ‘You’re allowed to stand your ground in a church, your allowed to stand your ground in a day care center, you’re allowed to stand your ground in schools with a person that may fall under the governor’s sentry program,’ and I just don’t know where we stop,” Fridy said.
Fridy offered a substitute bill, which clarifies that the legislation is meant to work as a supplement to the original “stand your ground” law and not in conflict with it. The substitute bill was adopted and approved by the committee.