I recently attended a rally in downtown Iowa City remembering Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, one month ago. People of all backgrounds and ethnicities came together to share their emotions, personal struggles and views on the tragic event itself and the Stand Your Ground law.
The Stand Your Ground law is a version of the Castle Doctrine. The doctrine explains that an individual, with no responsibility to retreat, can defend themselves against an intruder in their home or place of residence without becoming liable to prosecution. Stand Your Ground takes this concept and expands it beyond the residence to the public. It also removes the responsibility to retreat measure, which is usually in place in self-defense cases as a way to de-escalate a possibly violent or deadly situation. Also, the Stand Your Ground law can be used as immunity for criminal charges and civil suits, or used as a defense.
I just want to focus on the “no duty to retreat” aspect for a moment, which is included in these types of laws. A person has no duty or other requirement to abandon a place in which he has a right to be, or to give up ground to an assailant. This will likely play a major role in the Trayvon Martin case considering Zimmerman pursued Martin. Based off of this fact, it can easily be argued Trayvon Martin is the one that should benefit from the Stand Your Ground law.
So, what’s the difference between Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and a state with sane laws in regards to a public self-defense murder? Typically, the burden of proof is on the murderer. However, in Florida, the police essentially have to accept an individual’s claim of self-defense, unless they have evidence to the contrary.
Currently 23 other states have Stand Your Ground laws; 31 states have the Castle Doctrine. My home state of Iowa currently has its own GOP-supported Stand Your Ground law within the purgatory of the state senate. This version would not be as expansive as Florida’s law, and would cover an individual’s residence, car and work under the protection of the law.
How has the law worked for Florida, which was the first state to implement Stand Your Ground in 2005? Before the law was in effect, the Tampa Bay Times listed the average number of justifiable homicides a year as 34 (which continued the first full year Stand your ground was on the books in 2006). How does the rate of justified homicides in Florida fare five years later?
- 2006: 33
- 2007: 93
- 2008: 93
- 2009: 105
- 2010: 96
I can tell you where I’m not going to vacation this year.
There are clearly negative repercussions with such a law that assumes citizens have the skills to handle situations like that of a trained law enforcement officer. There is also a major issue with how the law is being interpreted by the system and by the individuals involved.
The latest question is: should George Zimmerman be arrested? According to the lead investigator, Chris Serino, yes. The author of the Stand Your Ground law, Senator Durell Peaden agrees, who has even publicly stated his law does not apply to Zimmerman’s situation and yet, it does.
Currently, the law is playing a major role right now in the Trevor Dooley case.
Trevor Dooley walked into a park with a loaded gun after yelling at a skateboarder when Iraq war veteran David James, who was playing basketball with his daughter at the time, confronted him over the incident. Dooley shot and killed James in front of his child. Dooley, under Stand your ground, says he was threatened by James and feels he was justified in the killing.
This is not an attack on gun owners or citizens’ rights. Even if the law were repealed or amended, the Castle Doctrine still stands. It’s about safety and common sense, two things that I find lacking more and more in the modern world.
The idea of taking care and watching out for one another is quickly being replaced with every man for himself. The Stand Your Ground law is just another dangerous stair in the case of that belief system.
Under Stand Your Ground, everyday citizens have more legal right to use deadly force than even police officers possess. People are given get out of jail free cards before the case is accurately accessed.
If allowed to remain, the Stand Your Ground law needs to undergo an immediate restructuring, because there are few things less responsible than handing over a license to kill to fear and uncertainty.