Obama Co-Sponsored 2004 Bill Strengthening Self-Defense in Illinois

Obama Co-Sponsored 2004 Bill Strengthening Self-Defense in Illinois

President Barack Obama has questioned the wisdom of “Stand Your Ground” laws, which in many states provide that a person using justified force in self-defense against an attacker has no duty to retreat before using that force. However, in 2004, then-State Senator Obama co-sponsored a bill that strengthened an Illinois law providing for the use of lethal force in self-defense, making the use of such force more likely.

Obama’s bill, SB 2386, prevented the aggressor (or his or her family, heirs and estate) from suing the person who had used justified force for damages incurred as a result of the use of that force. Though not a “Stand Your Ground” measure, Obama’s legislation was likewise designed to protect those acting in self-defense–“to prevent victims of crimes from being victimized again in civil court,” according to another co-sponsor.

The Illinois-based conservative blog, Illinois Review, recalled Obama’s co-sponsorship of the bill, which occurred during his campaign for the U.S. Senate. Though Obama had made gun control a signature issue early in his career in the state capitol representing the urban, liberal district of Hyde Park, the need to appeal to voters statewide may have prompted Obama’s co-sponsorship of the self-defense legislation.

Both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have indicated that they will target “Stand Your Ground” laws in the aftermath of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Though the “Stand Your Ground” law was incorporated into jury instructions, it was not a factor in the Zimmerman case, in which the defense relied on the simple argument that he acted in justified self-defense.

Though he was a strong advocate of gun control in the Illinois Senate, Obama’s failure to follow through helped cost him the biggest political defeat of his career, when he lost to Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) in a primary challenge in 2000. Obama missed a crucial gun control vote because he was on vacation in Hawaii–a fact that Rush, and the Chicago media, did not let Obama forget. The defeat still rankled years later, Obama wrote.

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