Could Missouri’s ‘stand your ground’ law apply to the Super Bowl celebration shooters?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The man accused of firing the first shots at the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl rally told authorities he felt threatened, while a second man said he pulled the trigger because someone was shooting at him, court records show documents.

Experts say that although the shooting killed one bystander and injured about 20 people, 23-year-old Lyndell Mays and 18-year-old Dominic Miller could have a strong case for self-defense through the “stand your ground” law of the state. .

Missouri is one of more than 30 states that have passed some version of stand-your-ground laws in the past 20 years, says Robert Spitzer, professor emeritus of political science at the State University of New York, Cortland, whose research focuses on gun policy and politics. While previous laws allowed people to use force to protect themselves in their homes, Stand Your Ground offers even broader self-defense rights regardless of location.

Now the mass shooting during the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl celebration could be another test of that expanded protection, and comes as self-defense is already at the center of another high-profile shooting in Kansas City that injured Ralph Yarl.

“This dramatically illustrates the fundamental problem, especially when it is a public gathering where there are thousands and thousands of people, and even a highly trained police officer often cannot avoid injuring others in a gunfire in a public place,” said Spitzer. , who wrote the book “Guns Across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights.”

Attorney Daniel Ross described the Stand Your Ground Law as a “formidable defense” that he and many other Kansas City attorneys expect to be used in Mays and Miller’s cases. He said the law gives the prosecutor the responsibility to refute claims that a shooting is lawful self-defense.

“Collateral damage is excused under Missouri law if you actually engage in lawful self-defense and other people get hurt,” he said.

There are limits to the defense, however, says Eric Ruben, a law professor at SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas, who has written about stand your ground and self-defense immunity.

“Even though Missouri has robust stand-your-ground laws, that doesn’t mean you can spray bullets into a crowd in the name of defending yourself or others,” Ruben said.

The Feb. 14 barrage of gunfire outside Kansas City’s historic Union Station occurred as the celebration, which drew an estimated 1 million fans, was coming to a close. A woman died while watching the rally with her family, and nearly two dozen others – more than half of them children – were injured and survived.

Kansas City was already grappling with the shooting of Yarl, a Black teenager, who survived a gunshot wound to the head when he went to the wrong house to pick up his brothers in April 2023. Andrew Lester, an 85-year-old white man, plans to plead self-defense when he goes to trial in October. His lawyer said the pensioner was terrified of the stranger on his doorstep.

While the shooting at the Super Bowl celebration was a very different scenario, it once again raises questions about how far people can go to protect themselves and what happens when innocents are victimized.

Mays and Miller are each charged with second-degree murder and other charges.

Probable cause statements indicate both men felt threatened. Mays said he randomly picked one person in a group and started shooting because they said, “I’m going to get you,” and he took that as “I’m going to kill you,” according to the affidavit.

Miller said under questioning that he shot four or five times because someone shot at him. His friend, Marques Harris, told WDAF-TV that Miller only tried to protect him after he was shot in the neck.

Miller’s attorney did not return phone and email messages seeking comment. No attorney was listed for Mays in online court records.

Two juveniles also face gun-related charges and resisting arrest.

Missouri has few regulations on firearms, and two of its cities — Kansas City and St. Louis — have among the highest annual homicide rates in the country. Missouri’s current Republican lawmakers have largely defended the state’s gun laws, instead blaming prosecutors and other local elected officials in the two cities.

And Republican Gov. Mike Parson, in a speech last week, cited social problems — not guns — as the reason for the violence. “I believe it is much more than a gun,” he said.

When Republican lawmakers expanded the state’s already extensive self-defense protections in 2016 by enacting the current “stand your ground law,” Black Missouri lawmakers raised concerns. The law also allowed most adults to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

Racial disparities are widespread among those calling the shots, with an Urban Institute study finding white shooters are more likely to benefit than black suspects.

The issue arose when Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager, was acquitted of killing two people and injuring a third during a protest against racism and police brutality in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 2020, after stating that he acted out self defense. Rittenhouse’s actions became a flashpoint in the debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice in the US.

The 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old, by George Zimmerman also led to a landmark case involving Florida’s stand-your-ground law. Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman who thought Martin looked suspicious, was acquitted.

In Georgia, which also has a constitution, three white men accused of fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery in 2020 claimed self-defense. Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan claimed they chased Arbery, who was black, because they thought he was a burglar. All three were convicted of murder.

In 2022, Wichita, Kansas, District Attorney Marc Bennett was critical of the state’s position on the Constitution when he announced that he would not file charges in the death of Cedric Lofton, a black 17-year-old who was found lying face down was held. more than 30 minutes in a juvenile detention center. Bennett said the law prevented him from filing charges because staff members protected themselves.

As the Chiefs parade case unfolds, it’s time to take another look at these laws, said Melba Pearson, a former homicide prosecutor who is now director of prosecution projects at Florida International University’s Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy.

“What are really the limits when it comes to fortitude and what really falls under the category of self-defense?” she asked. “Do we need to rethink what steadfastness looks like?”


Ballentine reported from Jefferson City, Missouri. Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri. John Hanna of Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report.