In the aftermath of the not guilty verdict in the second degree murder case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, the Stand Your Ground law has come into focus as setting a dangerous precedent for America’s armed citizenry. Dubbed by critics as the “Shoot First Law”, many are using the Zimmerman case as an opportunity to make it tougher for Americans to legally defend themselves with deadly force.
More than 30 states support the concept of the “Castle Doctrine“, which gives citizens the right to protect themselves with deadly force in their own homes without first retreating. “Stand Your Ground” laws essentially extend the Castle Doctrine to anywhere one happens to be. Under “Stand Your Ground”, you have no duty to retreat first when attacked on property that you have a legal right to occupy. 22 states have specifically affirmed some form of the “Stand Your Ground” human right as state law, although many others have legislatively supported a victim’s right to stand their ground absent of official law.
The people’s ability to protect themselves without running away is a fundamental American concept cherished since our revolutionaries fought for independence – and re-affirmed by the Supreme Court more than a hundred years ago in Beard v. United States. Ingrained and guaranteed inalienable in the American culture and human condition is a spirit of safety and independence, one that defines our nation and people as a formidable force ready and willing to defend itself when necessary.
Contrary to popular dogma, “Stand Your Ground” laws DO NOT give people the right to indiscriminately use deadly force or excuse “Wild West” behavior. Further, there is no “immunity from prosecution” as commonly believed. In “Stand Your Ground” cases in Florida, a judge and/or jury of your peers must still find that:
- the defendant had the right to be there, and
- the defendant was not engaging in criminal activity, and
- the defendant used reasonable force in response to the threat
This law removes the additional burden on crime victims of retreating first, a potentially more deadly response to a deadly crime.
Ignoring the actual facts in the Zimmerman case, Arizona Senator John McCain has said that his own state’s “Stand Your Ground” law should be reviewed after the “Not Guilty” Zimmerman verdict. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have expressed a desire to modify or eliminate similar laws around the country. Evidently, they believe the law provides Americans with too much freedom.
Critics of the law point out that justifiable homicides have increased since states have enacted “Stand Your Ground” laws, which is a misleading way of implying that more people are getting killed. In truth, it is the number of deaths that are justified that have increased, not the raw number of deaths, because of this law. Judges and juries of everyday people – you and me – found such force was reasonable and warranted.
Further, critics often cite cases where the use of deadly force is questionable and the ability to retreat was possible, but “Stand Your Ground” laws allowed the defendant to go free. Deadly force may have been questionable to critics, but a jury thought differently. Perhaps their aggression would be better suited for the prosecution, which failed to meet their burden of proof in the case. The law still requires that deadly force be reasonable to an objective third party. In this – or any other – cited case, the jury found deadly force to be reasonable. Critics blame the law, but the easy answer is not always the right one.
Imagine this – Your state does not recognize “Stand Your Ground” and you finish withdrawing a fist full of cash at an ATM. A gun-wielding man approaches you and demands your money at gun-point. You, the conscientious and law-abiding citizen who carries a firearm for protection, draw your gun and shoot the perpetrator in the stomach, who then flees the scene, only to be caught minutes later by a nearby police officer.
The criminal sues you for medical expenses and emotional distress to the tune of $2 million. His defense? You did not attempt to retreat from the situation. Instead of giving up your money and letting the criminal go, or running away from the scene and risking a shot in the back or a severe beating, you chose to shoot the criminal and immediately stop the crime in progress. Under the law, the criminal wins. In your state, you are required to run and hide rather than use deadly force against a deadly attack. Congratulations, you spend the rest of your life making payments to this criminal because you did not retreat (notwithstanding an expensive lawyer to defeat those charges, which becomes your burden).
“Stand Your Ground” laws symbolize the spirit of American culture and enjoy a deep-seeded place in our nation’s history. No American should be forced to retreat when threatened. The ability to confront a situation, with deadly force if warranted, is a basic human right that should be protected for every person in every state.
How many victims of crime and senseless lawsuits will it take before every state begins protecting the people’s innate and inalienable right to self defense without running away – the very concept our nation was built upon? Ask yourself a simple question: should YOU have the right to stand your ground if you are attacked, or should your state require you to run away and hope the assailant does not follow?
For the record, George Zimmerman did not use “Stand Your Ground” as his defense in his well-publicized case. Zimmerman only used “Self Defense”.