New developments in 'Joe Biden defense' case

Firearms charge to be dismissed, but man to be prosecuted for obstruction

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Clark County's prosecutor said Tuesday he will dismiss a firearms-related charge against a Vancouver man who said he was merely taking Vice President Joe Biden's advice on how to defend his property from car prowlers. Instead, the man will be prosecuted for obstructing a police officer.

Jeffrey C. Barton, 53, made international news when he told journalists: "I did what Joe Biden told me to do. I went outside and fired my shotgun in the air."

That is a reference to the vice president's answer to a question in February 2013 about home defense. Biden responded that Americans don't need to own semiautomatic weapons because a couple blasts from a shotgun will scare off intruders.

Barton's comment, dubbed the "Joe Biden defense," was circulated widely among Second Amendment activists, and also landed a two-minute segment on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

Barton was scheduled to be tried next week in Clark County District Court on a misdemeanor charge of illegally discharging a firearm in connection with the incident at his home. But Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik said Tuesday he has doubts that a jury would be persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that Barton violated the law when he fired shots into the air in a county-designated no-shooting zone.

"A person, even in a no-shooting zone, still has the right to defend their person or their property," Golik said. "In this case, based on the facts, there is a reasonable argument that Mr. Barton may have been defending his person and property when he fired in the air."

However, the firearms charge will be replaced with a charge of obstructing a law enforcement officer, Golik said.

Golik said ethical guidelines prevent him from discussing specific reasons for the new charge.

"Based on (Barton's) conduct, we are going to pursue the obstruction charge," he said.

According to Washington law, a person commits the crime of obstruction by willfully hindering, delaying, or obstructing any law enforcement officer in the discharge of his or her official powers or duties.

Deputy Prosector Greg Harvey, who is handling the case, has not yet filed paperwork on the new charge, which will outline supporting facts. He was out of the office Tuesday and not available for comment.

Barton said he fired his shotgun in the air to chase away three men who appeared to be breaking into his vehicles on July 15, 2013.

He and his National Rifle Association-supplied attorney, Jesse Corkern, have argued that his actions were within his Second Amendment rights, and the charge was without basis. Barton pleaded not guilty on July 17, 2013.

Barton said Tuesday that the new charge also is groundless.

"Tony Golik is desperately grasping at straws to keep his ass out of a civil suit, which he's going to get anyway," Barton said.

"They have to charge me with something; they've let this go on too long," he added.

His trial is now tentatively scheduled for Oct. 24.