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Rumor Check: Did Barack Obama Co-Sponsor Legislation Strengthening Illinois' 'Stand Your Ground' Laws?


President Barack Obama. (AP)

President Barack Obama in an impromptu appearance last Friday delivered a brief statement on the George Zimmerman trial verdict and the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon martin.

In his remarks, he criticized "stand your ground" laws. But some are suggesting the commander-in-chief actually helped strengthen the very laws he's now questioning back when he was an Illinois state senator. Is it true? We examine.

First, let's review what the president said last week.

In his remarks to a surprised White House Press corps, the president called on state officials to review their respective “stand your ground” gun laws -- laws that give some the right to defend themselves should they be threatened.

"I think it may be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations, confrontations and tragedies as we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations," President Obama said.

“I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the stand your ground laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case.

“On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?” he asked.

The president continued:

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these ‘stand your ground’ laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?

And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?

But here’s something interesting: Senator Barack Obama co-sponsored a 2004 bill that the Illinois Review says helped strengthen Illinois' "stand your ground" law.

“The Obama-sponsored bill (SB 2386) enlarged the state's 1961 law by shielding the person who was attacked from being sued in civil court by perpetrators or their estates when a ‘stand your ground’ defense is used in protecting his or her person, dwelling or other property,” the report claims.

The Democrat-controlled Illinois Senate passed SB 2386 unanimously on March 24, 2004. The bill then made its way through the Democrat-controlled Illinois House with only two “nay” votes and was eventually signed into law by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Roll call of SB 2386. (Illinois General Assembly)

Record of Obama co-sponsoring SB 2386. (Illinois General Assembly)

So did Barack Obama really co-sponsor a bill strengthening Illinois' “stand your ground” law?

No, says Slate’s Dave Weigel.

“Stand your ground’ is substantively different than what Obama backed in Illinois,” he explains. “[President Obama] backed a tweak to the ‘castle doctrine.'"

Weigel notes the following passage from the “castle doctrine”:

A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate such other's trespass on or other tortious or criminal interference with her real property (other than a dwelling) or personal property, lawfully in his possession or in the possession of another who is a member of his immediate family or household or of a person whose property he has a legal duty to protect.

This is clearly different from the type of laws President Obama referred to in last week's surprise presser.

"'Stand your ground' takes the concept of the castle doctrine and turns it into a traveling force field of sorts," Weigel notes.

Here’s how the Florida law is worded:

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Did Barack Obama really co-sponsor a bill strengthening Illinois' “stand your ground” law?

Not exactly.

There’s a pretty big difference between what he supported tweaking as a state senator and what he commented on during last week's press briefing.



Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter

Featured image Getty Images. This post has been updated.

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