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No more shoot first? The Trayvon Martin killing could change self defense laws in Texas

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In 2007, Texas' Castle Doctrine was expanded to include the workplace, businesses and vehicles. An important "duty to retreat" clause was also dropped, giving citizens a right to use immediate deadly force based on the simple perception of threat. Free Stock Photos
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Houston Democrat Garnet Coleman hopes to restore the law to its pre-2007 language to protect minorities from a "Shoot First and Ask Questions Later" situation. Garnet Coleman
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As the Trayvon Martin shooting continues to dominate national headlines, Houston lawmaker Garnet Coleman is working to amend a Texas self-defense law similar to Florida's "Stand Your Ground" policy.

A legal protection granted throughout the United States, the so-called Castle Doctrine gives citizens the right to protect themselves in their own home if threatened with bodily harm or death.

Throughout the past half decade, however, a number of states including Florida, Arizona and Texas have extended the Castle Doctrine to apply to legally-occupied spaces like workplaces, vehicles and businesses. The changes also removed a "duty to retreat" stipulation that required citizens to attempt to flee the scene before using deadly force.

"We shouldn't have laws that profile individuals based on whether we think they may be dangerous," Texas legislator Garnet Coleman says. 

This broadened scope of the law, for example, has allowed Florida neighborhood watch officer George Zimmerman to claim self-defense in the Martin shooting.

Five years ago, Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) was one of 13 state representatives to oppose the expansion of the Texas Castle Doctrine. And for the next state legislative session in January 2013, the veteran lawmaker announced he will be working to restore the law to its original form.

"The American Legislative Exchange Council and the National Rifle Association pushed this language around the country and passed it in 26 states, Texas being one of them in 2007," Coleman tells CultureMap. "I call it the 'Shoot First and Ask Questions Later' law."

Coleman says the policy allows individuals to use deadly force with only the perception of harm, rather than an actual transgression, putting minorities at a disproportional amount risk under the law.

"Say there are three male teenagers — one who is black, one who is white and one who is Latino," he says. "I don't care if you're black, white or brown . . .  most people by default perceive the 17-year-old black man as the threat. We shouldn't have laws that profile individuals based on whether we think they may be dangerous."

The Houston lawmaker hopes to use the Trayvon Martin case to shed light on the problems surround the expanded version of the Castle Doctrine

"Right now, this is the just start of amending or repealing those provisions that create an atmosphere where someone can shoot first and ask questions later," Coleman says. "I'd been the lead on an anti-bullying bill since 2003, but it only passed this last year. . .

"The world changes and so do people's points of view."

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