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Reality Check: Explaining Minnesota’s Self-Defense Laws

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota man told police he feared two teenagers breaking into his home had a weapon when he shot and killed them on Thanksgiving Day.

Byron Smith, 64, of Little Falls, is now facing murder charges.

Smith admitted to investigators he fired “more shots than (he) needed to.”

And seemed to brag about making “a good, clean finishing shot” when he killed 18-year-old Haile Kifer, after he had already killed 17-year-old Nicholas Brady.

Minnesotans already have the right to defend themselves in their homes, but the case in Little Falls would probably not apply.

It’s already legal to shoot and kill an intruder in your home, or in your yard, or your garage, if you are threatened.

But self-defense becomes murder at a very specific point.

Most states already have self-defense laws based on the Castle Doctrine — “a man’s home is his castle.”

In fact, in Minnesota, you can shoot an intruder — even kill — if you feel threatened with great bodily harm, or if you are trying to prevent a felony.

But you must stop shooting if the threat’s eliminated, even if the intruder is still alive.

That’s called the “duty to retreat.”

Self-defense laws in 24 states go further than Minnesota. They are not “duty to retreat” states — but “stand your ground” or “make my day” states. “Make my day,” as in Clint Eastwood’s famous line.

Here’s what you need to know.

This year the Minnesota legislature passed, and Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed, a bill that would have turned Minnesota into a “make my day” state.

That would have expanded the Castle Doctrine beyond a house — to cars, motor homes, boats — even tents.

That’s not the whole story.

In Little Falls, Smith may have felt threatened when two young people broke into his home.

But even a “make my day” state won’t allow a shooter to do what Smith says he did — keep shooting until the intruders were dead.

George Zimmerman used Florida’s “stand your ground” law when he killed Trayvon Martin, claiming he felt threatened.

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