By Jonathan Kaminsky Associated Press
OLYMPIA — A Washington state lawmaker last week withdrew a bill to limit self-defense rights after saying she receiving threats by telephone and email that have made her fear for her life.
Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, said House Bill 1012, filed last month, was spurred by the Trayvon Martin shooting last February, in which a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida shot dead the unarmed Martin, 17, after confronting him on the street.
The shooter, George Zimmerman, was not immediately arrested after the incident, with local law enforcement citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law as justification for his actions. Zimmerman was subsequently arrested and charged with second-degree murder last April. His case is pending.
Appleton’s bill would have required a person to retreat from a dangerous confrontation if he or she “knows or should know” that doing so would afford him “complete safety.”
“I was so appalled by the Trayvon Martin shooting,” Appleton said. “I did the bill because we have no verbiage on ‘duty to retreat’ in Washington.”
Washington is one of at least 29 states with no explicit duty to retreat. Some other states employ a “castle doctrine,” exempting a person in his home from the duty to retreat.
Appleton said her bill was written last September and she lamented that it was caught up in the reignited national debate over guns in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn., in which 26 people, including 20 children, were killed.
“It’s unfortunate, because Newtown happened, and that riled up so many people,” Appleton said. “I think it would have gone unnoticed if it hadn’t been for Newtown.”
The threats against Appleton, which were among the more than a hundred emails and telephone calls she received about the bill after reports of it circulated on gun advocacy websites, were nonspecific but “very scary,” said her assistant, Donna Bezon.
Bezon declined to provide copies of emails or transcripts of voice messages to The Associated Press, saying she wanted to spare Appleton, who has not seen the worst of them, the details contained therein. But she said the most concerning included information about where Appleton lived.
One advised the lawmaker to heed the lesson of an unnamed lawyer who had defended “murderers and rapists” but who had changed his allegiances after his family was attacked, Bezon said.
One of the perceived threats was forwarded to the state House of Representatives’ security office, said House Security Director Mark Arras.
“There was no direct or immediate threat, but there was disturbing language,” said Arras, adding that his office discussed it with the Washington State Patrol and continues to monitor the situation.
Appleton conceded that the bill could have been written more narrowly, but said the threats have left her fearful and unwilling to pursue such legislation again.
“I’m not going to fall on my sword to have to live with those kinds of threats,” Appleton said. “It will have to be somebody else that will do the bill.”
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, a gun enthusiast, said he was heartened by the strong negative response to the measure, but condemned any physical threats.
“When the grassroots gets involved like they did and they call her up and they say, ‘Hey, we oppose this,’ that’s grassroots activism at its finest,” said Shea. “Anytime anyone on either side of the aisle gets threatened, obviously that doesn’t help.”
The bill was removed last week from the House’s official register of bills.