Cape County prosecutor talks about self-defense laws for Missouri property owners

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

If social unrest similar to August's London riots occurred in Missouri, there would have been more deaths and it would have been more difficult to successfully prosecute the rioters, Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle told members of the Cape Girardeau Rotary Club on Monday.

Swingle was invited to speak about the rights of Missouri business owners and residents to protect their property during mayhem and riots.

Under a 2007 statute known as Missouri's Castle Law, home or business owners may use deadly force if they reasonably believe someone is trying to commit a burglary or arson, Swingle said.

"The law does give a lot of protections to Missouri to take the law into your own hands and protect yourself," Swingle said.

Strict gun control laws in London prohibit even its police from using deadly force in similar situations, he said.

On Aug. 6. more than 3,000 rioters ransacked and looted neighborhoods, much of it captured on video by BBC.

"People were asking on TV that night, 'Where are the police?'" Swingle said. "The fact is one police officer can't do much against 200 rioters. London police officers don't shoot guns at people, so it was basically the London police officers hiding behind their riot shields until they'd finally catch one. Then the rest would run away."

Only five people were killed in the four-night London riots. More than 184 police officers were injured.

The riots destroyed 899 stores and 100 homes and caused more than $200 million in property damage.

London's strict gun laws and its closed-circuit television system both played a role in preventing deaths and prosecuting the rioters, Swingle said.

"The bad guy is probably not going to have a gun in London because gun control is so effective," Swingle said. "The bad thing about gun control is you don't have a gun yourself if somebody's coming in your home or your business."

London's closed-circuit television system has more than 15,000 cameras on lampposts.

"In London, you're basically on video the entire day while you are outside," Swingle said. "Cameras are basically on every lamppost in London. They don't have the manpower to monitor all of them all the time, but if somebody gets their purse snatched, they zero right in and often have a videotape of that crime happening."

Most of the rioters weren't wearing masks, so police later posted photos of rioters in newspapers and have now arrested more than 3,100 people.

London's court system has been working through the night to process the cases, Swingle said.

After watching videos of some of the rioters breaking out store windows, Swingle said he wonders if rioters in the U.S. would be as bold in a country where people are allowed to use deadly weapons in self-defense.

"That guy did not have to worry a bit that there was a shop owner inside with a shotgun that was going to blow him away when he went inside. Gun control is so strict in London, rioters didn't have to worry there was going to be someone protecting their home with a gun," Swingle said.

Missouri's Castle Law also allows people to protect themselves with deadly force if someone is trying to break into their vehicle while they are inside it, he said.

While Missouri's Castle Law allows property owners to defend themselves, it does not allow them to use a "spring gun" on their property when they are not home.

It also protects property owners who use deadly force to protect themselves in those situations from being sued in civil court, Swingle said.

"The ironic thing is that Missouri has a castle law, and London, that doesn't have a castle law, has all the castles," Swingle said.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

1333 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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