Colorado takes pride in its Western entrepreneurial spirit — and that extends to the belief of some lawmakers that business owners should be able to use deadly force against anyone who tries to take what’s theirs.
It’s an idea that conjures Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, and its supporters have taken liberties with the hardboiled character’s famous line in naming their measure “Make My Day Better.”
The state already has a law that allows people in homes to gun down invaders, and the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Chris Holbert, is asking lawmakers to weigh: “Are you worth somehow less in the workplace than you are in your residence?”
Opponents, including some in law enforcement, consider the plan an overreach.
“This bill gives business owners a license to kill when nothing is threatened other than property,” Democratic state Rep. Claire Levy said.
Most states have some variation of a self-defense law. In legislatures from Alaska to Oklahoma, lawmakers are considering adopting or extending such protections.
On Thursday, Republicans in a Colorado House committee advanced the measure to extend “Make My Day” home protections to businesses on a 6-5 party line vote. The bill, which includes provisions to protect property, is expected to pass the Republican-controlled state House, but fail in the Democrat-controlled state Senate.
Republicans found motivation for the proposal about five years ago after a Denver nightclub owner shot an intruder and was charged with attempted murder, and have unsuccessfully introduced a version of the measure in several sessions.
Holbert said the bill’s opponents raised concerns when the state passed a “Make My Day” law back in the ’80s.
“The opponents to that law were quite sure that we would have an increase in people just being shot on doorsteps, and that hasn’t been the case,” he said.
Holbert said, “This isn’t a blanket coverage to do bad things.”
Oklahoma already has self-defense protections for business owners, but this year lawmakers are considering strengthening the law after some high-profile shootings.
On New Year’s Eve, a young widow armed with a shotgun and a pistol gunned down a knife-wielding intruder at her rural mobile home. Prosecutors said she was justified under the law.
In another shooting, a homeowner in an Oklahoma City suburb shot and killed an armed invader who was breaking into his duplex.
Oklahoma’s law allows deadly force when someone unlawfully and forcibly enters a business. Lawmakers want to clarify language so it applies to people who enter dwellings legally — but with bad intentions.
Other states are having similar discussions.
Alaska lawmakers are considering a bill similar to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which provides some of the nation’s widest-ranging protections. It allows anyone who can carry a gun to kill in self-defense anywhere firearms are allowed.
Wisconsin and North Carolina passed laws last year giving business owners the power to use deadly force. And Utah is considering legislation that would protect people from being sued if they use a weapon to protect their property.
The attempted murder charge against the Colorado nightclub co-owner in the 2006 shooting was later dropped, but the case gained notoriety because gun rights advocates argued the business owner was acting in self-defense.
Detractors, meanwhile, questioned whether the businessman was the aggressor.
More recently, two armed men entered a cash-checking business in suburban Denver and were involved in a shootout with employees. One of the suspected robbers was killed.
Two years earlier, a would-be robber was also killed during an attempt on the same business.
Aurora police spokesman Frank Fania said prosecutors are reviewing the most recent case at the cash-checking business, but noted that no charges were filed when a robber was killed.
“I don’t think we need a law,” Levy said. “There is a right to self-defense. So if your person is threatened, you always have that right. This law just goes so far. It goes beyond defense, this says you’re immune.”
Luke O’Dell, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, said business owners are not always spared legal scrutiny, referring to the case of the Denver nightclub owner.
“The law may appear to be black and white in its lettering, the application is very gray,” he said.