Make My Day Law Reviewed by Sponsors

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The Colorado Freedom

Make My Day Law Reviewed by Sponsors

by Ari Armstrong, April 9, 2003

In New York, prosecutors punish those who defend themselves against violent criminals. Here in Colorado, citizens who practice self-defense in their own homes are protected by the "Make My Day" law. The legislative sponsors of the 1985 bill, Vickie Armstrong and Jim Branden, reviewed the history of the ground-breaking self-defense legislation at a March 29 banquet hosted by the Pro Second Amendment Committee in Grand Junction.

Vickie Armstrong and Jim Branden, legislative sponsors of the 1985 "Make My Day" law, spoke March 29 in Grand Junction.

Branden thought sponsoring the bill would be "no big deal; it shouldn't carry much excitement." Then he ended up debating it on Crossfire. Television stations in England, Australia, and New Zealand also covered the bill. The proposal "began to take on a life of its own," Armstrong said, and it earned "fascination around the world."

Originally called the "Homeowner Protection Act," the bill was actually renamed by one of its opponents, State Senator Dave Wattenberg, who invoked the Clint Eastwood line when arguing against it. Now even the courts refer to the "Make My Day" law in their opinions.

In 1990 William Wilbanks, Professor of Criminal Justice at Florida International University in Miami, wrote "The 'Make My Day' Law." Even though Wilbanks wasn't a big fan of the legislation, Branden said, the book is a good resource.

Armstrong said several people have attempted to invoke the law in cases where she didn't think it applied, such as when a battered woman hired a hit-man to kill her husband. Still, added Branden, "All in all the law has worked well." Armstrong said, "I believe it really works," citing a number of cases in which the defense was used successfully.

"Nobody thought it would pass" in the senate, Armstrong said; "the rhetoric... became very heated." She said the proposal led to "hysteria among the Denver media," who "did almost everything they could to defeat that law at the time." The bill's advocates spent a lot of energy trying to get buy-in from the powerful District Attorney lobby. "I can't really explain how delicate the bill was... It was not easy, even with the public support," Armstrong said.

By the time the bill reached the desk of Democratic Governor Dick Lamm, though, even Democrats were pressuring him to sign it out of fear for their political futures, according to Branden.

The rationale for the law is fairly straight-forward: people have a right to defend themselves and their loved ones against criminals who break into their homes. He said critics asked, "Is your TV set worth somebody's life?" He answered, "The criminal made that choice" to break into a home. A single woman cannot possibly hope to divine the intentions of an intruder, he argued. A criminal may well follow up a burglary with rape or worse. Also, a homeowner cannot be expected to just wait around and hope the intruder is unarmed. A would-be criminal can avoid the risk of getting shot simply by not breaking into people's houses.

Thus, the "Make My Day" law probably has a large deterrence effect beyond its use in the courts. Branden noted the violent crime rate declined in Colorado following the passage of the law, though Wilbanks argued the causal connection is not thereby established.

When a gun is used for self-defense outside the home in Colorado, self-defense is an "affirmative defense" against criminal charges. The "Make My Day" law expands the protection of those who exercise self-defense within their homes. Under the law, people who defend themselves are exempted from criminal as well as civil liability. The law now resides in the Colorado statute books as 18-1-704.5:

(1) The general assembly hereby recognizes that the citizens of Colorado have a right to expect absolute safety within their own homes. (2) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 18-1-704, any occupant of a dwelling is justified in using any degree of physical force, including deadly physical force, against another person when that other person has made an unlawful entry into the dwelling, and when the occupant has a reasonable belief that such other person has committed a crime in the dwelling in addition to the uninvited entry, or is committing or intends to commit a crime against a person or property in addition to the uninvited entry, and when the occupant reasonably believes that such other person might use any physical force, no matter how slight, against any occupant. (3) Any occupant of a dwelling using physical force, including deadly physical force, in accordance with the provisions of subsection (2) of this section shall be immune from criminal prosecution for the use of such force. (4) Any occupant of a dwelling using physical force, including deadly physical force, in accordance with the provisions of subsection (2) of this section shall be immune from any civil liability for injuries or death resulting from the use of such force.

During the banquet, leaders of the Pro Second Amendment Committee also distributed awards to students who wrote winning essays about the Second Amendment. Linn Armstrong (Vickie's brother and this writer's father) served as MC for the event.

Sheriff Stan Hilkey (shown here with his wife Lynelle) also addressed the 135-member audience. Hilkey, who won the sheriff's race last year, said he stepped into a healthy and efficient office. "Everybody works together," he said of local law enforcement agencies.

Hilkey said of Colorado's new concealed carry law, "It is a great start and I think it'll be a good addition to this state." He described the various technical provisions of the law. Linn Armstrong credited former sheriff Riecke Claussen with creating a strong concealed carry program in Mesa County that served as a model for the state.

The Colorado Freedom