Gov. Mark Dayton, who vetoed a "Stand Your Ground" law that would have expanded the definition of self-defense and the use of lethal force by civilians, said the Trayvon Martin case in Florida has further convinced him that such laws are not needed.
He commented on the acquittal last weekend of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed the 17-year-old Martin in Sanford, Fla., in February of 2012. Florida has a law similar to the one Dayton vetoed, although it is not clear that it figured into Zimmerman's successful claim of self-defense.
"Whether we agree or disagree with the decision, we have to carry on," Dayton said, in his first comments on the case. "We have to learn from the mistakes of the past -- learn that these kinds of laws that are supposedly empowering citizen vigilantes to take matters in their own hands have catastrophic effects."
Dayton vetoed a bill backed by the National Rifle Association and passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature in 2012. Current Minnesota laws provide for reasonable self-defense, he said.
"People have a right to defend themselves," he said at a brief news briefing after a speech in St. Paul. "They have a constitutional right to bear arms. But they have to do so responsibly, and they have to do so with respect for the lives of others."
Dayton said he could not say whether the not-guilty verdicts were correct under Florida law. "My personal opinion -- I don't have all the information the jury had -- Mr. Zimmerman went way beyond what was necessary in the situation," he said.
"You have a right under Minnesota law, if you're threatened in your own home, or on your own property, and you have serious and credible reason to believe your life is in danger, to use force to resist that," he said.
Under "Stand Your Ground" laws, he said, there could be "more severe penalties in Minnesota for shooting somebody else's dog in your backyard than there would be ... for shooting a human being."
"We have to use common sense here," he added. "People have a right to protect themselves. On the other hand, we have a sanctity of life that I think we all believe in."