Under fire, legislator pulls retreat bill
by Tom James
After a flood of angry, sometimes-belligerent calls and emails, Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, said she has withdrawn a bill she sponsored adding a retreat clause to the state's self-defense law.
The calls came Monday following a Jan. 4 Crosscut story on the bill. Appleton said staff from her office called her, upset over the number of angry, vaguely threatening calls they had received over the phone during the day. The same day, Appleton said, she received a large number of negative emails that included personal attacks and veiled threats.
"These people when it comes to guns, they can be really threatening," Appleton said. "People like that, you can't talk to. I mean, it was shocking to me."
As a result of the calls, Appleton said she decided to withdraw the bill, HB 1012. Although the bill is still listed for the upcoming session, Appleton said she had asked personally that the bill be be passed over in the agenda.
"For all intents and purposes, this legislation is dead," Appleton said. "It has created such a mountain of hate and discontent." With education and budget issues looming, she added, "I don't want this to distract from those issues."
In addition to adding a duty to retreat in self-defense situations, the bill also would have shortened the list of reasons in which a death would be considered justifiable homicide.
Currently, Washington law allows deadly force to prevent bodily harm in general, as long as it is generally proportional to the threat, said Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff at the King County prosecutor's office. That might leave room for killing someone – even if an assailant posed less than a completely lethal threat, Goodhew said.
Appleton's bill would have explicitly removed prevention of property crimes as a justification for using deadly force, and clarified that deadly force would only be justifiable if a person was directly threatened with serious injury.
Appleton said her office notified the Washington State Patrol that generally threatening remarks had been received; her staff didn’t collect phone numbers of any of the individual callers. Some of the remarks involved statements that she would be sorry or that “we will be watching you.”
Even before Christmas, Appleton said, she had received a handful of phone calls in opposition to the bill. Appleton, first elected in 2004, said she had never started getting calls on a bill so soon after it had been submitted, well before the legislature started its session and even before a digest summarizing the proposal had been published.
Most communications, Appleton said, were from people outside her district who misunderstood the bill. Many of the callers thought the bill was some kind of gun control measure, or an attempt to prevent them from protecting their families.
Instead, Appleton said, the bill was an attempt to address a gray area in the law. While she might consider reintroducing the bill next session, Appleton said she won't be doing any more work on it this year.
The law needs to be clarified, Appleton said. "But we have to do it in ways that people understand what we're trying to do."
As to why she had pre-filed such a potentially controversial bill without co-sponsors or partner organizations, Appleton said she hoped to gain both after the first reading of the bill this month.