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Posts distort Texas bill on deadly force

December 10, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: A bill introduced in Texas by Democratic state Rep. Terry Meza would repeal the state’s “castle doctrine” law, which allows a homeowner to use deadly force against an armed intruder. The bill, HB 196, would require the homeowner to “flee the home” at the first sign of intrusion, and if fleeing is not possible, “cooperate with the intruder.” 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Meza’s bill would not repeal the state’s “castle doctrine” law, and it wouldn’t alter actions Texans may currently take during a home invasion. Instead, it would amend the state penal code to require Texas residents to retreat if possible if someone outside the home threatens them or their property. Meza’s bill doesn’t instruct homeowners to “cooperate” with an intruder, nor does it prevent them from using deadly force in self-defense if they are unable to retreat. 

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THE FACTS: A post viewed more than 2 million times on Facebook this week is distorting the truth about a proposed bill in Texas and using fabricated quotes to paint a Dallas-area lawmaker as a socialist.

Language in the post can be traced back to a Dec. 5 blog written by the conservative humorist John Semmens, who confirmed to The Associated Press it was a work of satire based on the real bill. However, his post is being shared as real on social media.

“Under the new law the homeowner’s obligation is to flee the home at the first sign of intrusion,” the post reads. “If fleeing is not possible he must cooperate with the intruder. But if violence breaks out it is the homeowner’s responsibility to make sure no one gets hurt. The best way to achieve this is to use the minimum non-lethal force possible because intruders will be able to sue for any injuries they receive at the hands of the homeowner.”

First of all, HB 196 is not a law — Meza has introduced the bill, but it has not yet passed in the state legislature. Secondly, the bill would not require homeowners to “cooperate” with an intruder, nor would it change laws related to liability in the event that someone uses force in self-defense.

The post also attributes several false quotes to the Democratic lawmaker, claiming Meza said that “in most instances the thief needs the money more than the homeowner does” and “on balance, the transfer of property is likely to lead to a more equitable distribution of wealth.”

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Meza didn’t say that, spokesman Vince Leibowitz told The Associated Press in an email.

“Rep. Meza would never say anything like this,” Leibowitz said. “These quotes, which appear to come from GOPForum.com, among others, are entirely fabricated.”

Leibowitz clarified that the bill, a new piece of legislation which Meza introduced in November, would not repeal the state’s “castle doctrine” law, which has given Texas residents a strong legal defense to use deadly force in their homes since 2007. Instead, Meza’s bill would amend the Texas penal code to assign people a duty to retreat from an intruder on their property if possible before using deadly force.

The bill deals only with situations outside the home, leaving intact Texas law relating to situations inside someone’s own “habitation,” defined in the state penal code as “a structure or vehicle that is adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons.”

Some Facebook users have shared the post in anger, suggesting Meza has ties to socialism and saying they hope she becomes a target of theft or other crime.

Describing the rationale behind her bill on Twitter, Meza said she filed it because “the castle doctrine as it currently exists emboldens people to take justice into their own hands.”

“While theft is obviously wrong, we have laws to address that,” she wrote. “I don’t believe that stealing someone’s lawn ornament should be an offense punishable by death.”

“Rep. Meza believes in the right of a homeowner to defend themselves in their own home from an intruder, with deadly force if necessary,” Leibowitz told the AP. “The intent of the bill is to encourage Texas gun owners to be defenders not aggressors.”

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536