TRAYVON MARTIN CASE

Stand Your Ground laws a shaky basis for justice

 
 
SANCHEZ
SANCHEZ

msanchez@kcstar.com

The Trayvon Martin murder case will boil down to one claim known by mothers everywhere.

“He started it!”

Every parent with more than one child has heard that cry. When their little one points his or her finger accusingly at a sibling, claiming to have been provoked into the tussle or name-calling, a wise parent responds with, “Well, why did you react?”

George Zimmerman will be asked if he instigated the altercation that led to him shooting to death the unarmed teenager, for which Zimmerman now faces the charge of second-degree murder.

The basis of Zimmerman’s defense is that, fearing for his life, he believed he was justified to shoot and kill.

The jury will decide.

Zimmerman waived his right for a hearing to exculpate himself under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, although his lawyer has suggested that he may attempt to invoke the law if he is found guilty in his impending trial.

These laws need to be better understood for their implications for a civil society. Since Florida became the first state to pass the so-called Stand Your Ground law in 2005, about 30 other states have followed suit with some form of these laws.

Most states have the Castle Doctrine, which allows people to use deadly force, without the expectation to retreat, when threatened in their own home.

What the Stand Your Ground laws do is broaden the right to kill without retreating, even when it is possible, to other places, such as a workplace or a car.

Prior to the spread of these new laws, people were expected to back down, to retreat, if possible. Shoot First, Stand Your Ground and Make My Day laws can make it legal to refuse to walk away.

More research is needed into the effects of these laws. However, the evidence available now should trouble anyone who thinks laws should make society safer, rather than promoting violence.

One point is made repeatedly by David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center: “Firearms are used far more often to frighten and intimidate than they are used in self-defense.”

People are confused about what constitutes self-defense. What many people term self-defense is really just the last act in an argument gone out of control, a situation that escalates until one or both parties reach for a gun.

In one study, verbatim accounts of people who claimed self-defense were sent to criminal court judges for review. The majority of time, the judges felt the shootings, as described by the shooter, were not legal uses of self defense. Most often, the cases were simply arguments that ended violently when one person used a gun. Many were avoidable.

The Harvard Center has ripped apart other studies that overestimate the number of instances in which people have justifiably used a gun in self-defense. Given a chance to paint themselves a victim/hero, shooters often do, no matter what the facts of their cases were. So when researchers try to estimate what proportion of shootings are cases of self-defense, it’s problematic, to say the least, to base their figures on the shooters’ self-reported motives.

Hemenway has also noted that in interviews, about half of convicted felons who used a gun in their crimes claim they did so in self-defense.

Many of these instances probably aren’t all that different from the type of the knuckleheaded justifications for murder that we regularly hear on the evening news: the endless stories of teenagers claiming someone “disrespected” them with a sneer, an ugly comment. So they just had to shoot the person dead.

People readily recognize the ludicrous nature of the claim that violence was necessary, that someone “had it coming to them.” Yet Stand Your Ground laws by definition turn this lack of self-control and inability to manage disagreement into a legal right to use lethal force. It’s sanctioned murder.

Depending on how one of these laws is crafted, it can even take away the ability of police to file charges, and prosecutors can face higher burdens of proof.

The question that needs to be answered is: Has the proliferation of Stand Your Ground laws influenced public behavior to the point of making us less safe?

If he were alive to answer, it would be good to get Trayvon Martin’s opinion.

©2013 The Kansas City Star

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  • In My Opinion

    Let’s hear it for the Washington Slurs

    Twenty-four dollars.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">Campaign:</span> Gov. Rick Scott held a meeting with senior citizens in Miami last week to hear their concerns about changes in Medicare Advantage.

    SCOTT CAMPAIGN

    Scott campaign ads serve up baloney

    The next governor of Florida could be determined by the success or failure of the Affordable Care Act. Or the perception of its success or failure as shaped by the campaigns of Rick Scott and Charlie Crist.

  •  
WENSKI

    IMMIGRATION

    Putting the immigration debate in human terms

    Former Gov. Jeb Bush has elicited the outrage of the anti-immigrant crowd with his recent comment that crossing illegally into the United States to find work to support one’s family is an “act of love.” And, he is right. As the bishops of the Second Vatican Council taught 50 years ago: “Man, who is the only creature on Earth which God willed for himself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.”

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category