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Leave Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law alone

2012-03-21T23:17:14+00:00

Left-wing news sites like MSNBC.com have been trumpeting the February shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin as a reason to call for the repeal of self-defense laws. Martin, a 17-year-old black boy, took a shortcut through a gated community in Sanford (a suburb of Orlando) to reach his father’s girlfriend’s house on February 26th. It was a rainy night. A resident neighborhood watch member, a 28-year-old Hispanic man named George Zimmerman, confronted Martin, demanding to know what Martin was doing in the neighborhood, which had suffered a recent spate of burglaries by young black men. The encounter ended with Zimmerman calling the police, then ignoring the dispatcher’s order not to pursue Martin, and then shooting and killing Martin. Zimmerman claimed self-defense, saying he thought Martin was armed. Martin was carrying only his phone, a cup of iced tea and a bag of candy.

The Sanford police did not charge Zimmerman, saying that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, enacted in 2005, eliminated Zimmerman’s duty to retreat from conflict and gave him immunity for his actions.

Twenty-one of the fifty US states have “Stand Your Ground” laws now. Florida’s statute 776.013(3) (2006), is worded thus (hat tip: Hessinger and Kilfin Law firm):

“A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity, and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

This new law expands upon Florida’s preexisting castle doctrine and permits one to stand their ground anywhere. Florida Statutes 776.032(1) then holds in pertinent part:

A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s776.031 is justified in using such force, and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force…”

Florida’s statute was passed in response to the 2004 case of 77-year-old James Workman, who shot a burglar who was attempting to loot Workman’s home which had been damaged by Hurricane Ivan. Workman confronted the burglar and fired a warning shot into the ground. The burglar attacked him and Workman killed him.  Workman said he lived in fear of prosecution for many months for his “failure to retreat” from the burglar, before the authorities finally decided not to charge him. The law was designed to remove the duty to retreat, and therefore to remove the ambiguity of the armed citizen’s liability in such cases.

In Zimmerman’s case, the Sanford police decided not to prosecute, because Zimmerman clearly stated that he believed that Martin was going to attack him, which invokes statute 776.013, and then statute 776.032 renders him immune. There was also no witness to the actual shooting other than Zimmerman himself. The question of the shooting’s legality turns on the phrase “reasonably believes.” A jury can decide that Zimmerman was unreasonable in his belief that Martin was about to harm him, and therefore could remove his legal justification for shooting Martin. Most self-defense laws are written that way. The Sanford police had a choice to prosecute him, and they chose not to. The law did not prevent them from prosecuting him. And it does not prevent them from prosecuting him now, a month after Martin’s death, as the Orlando Sentinel points out.

I don’t believe that massive numbers of signatures on an online petition calling for Zimmerman to be prosecuted have any bearing at all on this or any other case. That’s simply mob rule. In the same vein, I think people should ignore the calls from anti-gun lobbyists (and the media) to overturn the “Stand Your Ground” law. Martin’s death is unfortunate, but it is not part of a tidal wave of legalized slaughter in the name of “self defense.” Yes, the money-losing, left-wing St. Petersburg Times (now called the Tampa Bay Times) found in 2010 that “justifiable homicide” cases in Florida roughly tripled since 2006, to a 2009 high of 105. But Florida’s online statistics show:

  • Total murders were down from 1129 in 2006 to 987 in 2010, even as the state’s population increased by 422,636 people.
  • Violent crime overall was down 23 percent from 2006 to 2010, from 705.8 violent crimes per 100,000 people to 542.9 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

All the St. Petersburg Times discovered is the fact that what used to be an automatic arrest of a self-defending citizen on the suspicion of murder or manslaughter, is no longer an automatic arrest. That’s to be expected under the current statute. But the police still have the option of arresting the armed citizen after a shooting, and letting a jury sort it out. The “Stand Your Ground” law does not impede the legal process at all. And the “Stand Your Ground” law still requires that the armed citizen be “reasonable.” It does not grant an armed citizen the right to shoot people with impunity.

The presence of a gun in the hands of a citizen defending themselves is a significant factor in reducing Florida’s violent crime. More then 840,000 Florida citizens held concealed-weapon permits in 2011. Yet there has been no tidal wave of blood, no tsunami of vigilantism since Florida began issuing permits in 1987, nor since 2005 when the “Stand Your Ground” law was passed. Instead, criminals are now less likely to attack people, because they don’t know who is armed. This is known as the “halo effect,” as discussed by John Lott, Jr. and other researchers. Even if you choose not to carry a gun to defend yourself, the “halo effect” of others who do carry a gun helps to protect you. This halo effect is in operation in nearly every one of the 49 states where some form of concealed carry is allowed.

Martin’s death was unfortunate. And I think Zimmerman’s case should go before a grand jury, regardless of civil-rights meddling from the US Department of Justice, or calls from anti-gun or race-baiting activists. But this issue has personal relevance to me. I carry at least one gun every day for the purposes of self-defense. It is a responsibility, and a choice that I make. I am ultimately responsible for my own life and the preservation of it, just as you are for yours. And I resent that misguided activists and media people, who don’t believe that people should be able to defend themselves from criminals, are using Zimmerman’s case as a basis to attack law-abiding citizens, painting us all with the same broad brush of murderous vigilantism. The law is written to protect citizens who protect themselves. It is not written to protect vigilantes.

Leave the law alone, because it works.

4 Comments
  1. 2012-03-22T16:29:47+00:00 16:29

    The truth is starting to leak out now reference the “cause and effect” of this case….And of course, Al Sharpton and the rest of the liberal main stream media will have a field day, using this sad situation to benefit their agenda… “gun control”. Your blog is the first I have heard reference the boy taking a short cut through a “gated community” and also that fact that Mr Zimmerman is a Hispanic.

    Being as the “forces that be” at this point in time are trying to make this a racist issue, they will use the state of Florida and a law that works for it’s citizens, to strip us all of our rights to bear arms… And then what’s next?

    I really like your blog site and will be sharing this info on my Facebook site! Boy the sparks are gonna fly! lol !

    Like

  2. 2012-03-22T03:04:46+00:00 03:04

    I also have to admit to not being a big fan of guns. But, then, I do live in the relative safety of New Zealand – not that we don’t have our occasional nutters going on rampages, or gang activity (we have a gang living about a block away from us … one that required the presence of police armed with semi-automatic weapons a few months back). I can’t say I am anti-gun or pro-gun either way – I just haven’t had to think about it. Heck, our police officers are only just getting armed. I don’t have anything against responsible people having guns, as such, I guess I just wish they didn’t need to.
    I didn’t know anything about these cases until reading them here. The Zimmerman one sounds tragic – hopefully an honest mistake, but that makes it no less tragic.
    But, self-defense – I do agree with. People who try to cheat “the system” (and I don’t mean the government, or whatever, I mean the day-to-day living of average people trying to get by in life) need to face consequences, otherwise everyone loses. And, sometimes, they need to face harsh consequences (and, in all honesty, as much as I hate violoence in reality – but don’t mind it on TV or in movies … or on the sports’ field – I struggle to have sympathy for those who are injured/killed when doing something illegal). There, I said it.

    My soft spot for the “Wild West” (as a general way of life, rather than any particular movie or tv-show) may play a role in my opinions.

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    • 2012-03-22T08:22:27+00:00 08:22

      I see why you’re a writer; you express yourself well. And I see why you read my drivel… we think alike. ;-)

      You live in an idyllic place. The most you have to worry about is sheep stampedes, earthquakes, and Marmite shortages. :-)

      I think people do not learn unless they suffer the consequences of an incorrect choice. Organisms are programmed to avoid pain. If you remove pain, then they do not avoid the things they should.

      The “Wild West” was not very wild, in truth. Gunslinging is more prevalent in today’s ghettos than it was on the frontier, I think. There is a magazine you might enjoy called “True West.” It talks about the Old West and what it was like.

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