Topeka — A law taking effect today says that Kansans have no duty to retreat when attacked and can "meet force with force," but legislators disagree about its significance.
The new statute also declares that people who use justifiable force against a perceived attacker can't be prosecuted or forced to pay damages unless they use force against law enforcement officers.
Legislators tucked the self-defense measure into a bill that also contained provisions cracking down on street gangs, clarifying laws against drug paraphernalia and raising from $500 or $1,000 the threshold that determines whether fraud is a felony or misdemeanor.
Both chambers approved the measure overwhelmingly May 3, and Sebelius signed it Friday, even though she had misgivings about the self-defense provision, spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said.
"That was something bundled in with several other pieces of legislation," Corcoran said of the self-defense measure. "There were a couple of pieces that were important."
Supporters describe the self-defense measure as a "stand and defend" statute, or a "castle" law, after the notion that a man's home is his castle. Detractors have called it a "shoot your neighbor" proposal.
It's based in part on a Florida law enacted last year and in Oklahoma this year.
The new law declares that anyone engaged in a lawful activity, "anywhere such a person has a right to be" can use force to repel an attack.
It says deadly force is justifiable when people believe they or others are in danger of "imminent death" or "great bodily harm." Also, deadly force can be used to prevent someone from entering a home or occupied vehicle unlawfully.
"This does away with that duty to retreat to meet force with force," said sponsoring Rep. Richard Carlson, R-St. Marys. "It also gives you civil immunity against lawsuits as long as you use justifiable force."
Carlson sees the new law as a significant step forward in allowing Kansans to defend themselves.
But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Vratil said the state's legal traditions already held that someone didn't have to retreat to use force.
He said even the language granting immunity from prosecution or lawsuits, while new, isn't likely to have much effect, because defendants have always been able to argue they acted in self-defense. He said he and others agreed to the proposal to placate conservative legislators.
"What we did makes them think they got something," said Vratil, R-Leawood.
The new law won praise from the National Rifle Association, and Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville, a vocal gun rights advocate, said even if Kansas previously wasn't a state requiring someone to retreat, clarifying the law was valuable.