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Jordan Margolis
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Stand Your Ground Laws: What Should We Do When State Law Trumps Common Sense?

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The February 26, 2012 shooting of 17 year old Trayvon Martin provides a tragic example of how ineffectively and dangerously our nation's Stand Your Ground laws operate. Florida, along with approximately 20 other states in the U.S., enacted legislation that eliminates the common law requirement for an individual to retreat, rather than use force, when confronted with danger outside his or her home. Stand Your Ground laws provide citizens (untrained by the police or by gun-safety professionals) carte blanche to justify their use of deadly weapon by claiming "self-defense".

A University of Miami Law Review Note, writted by Zachary L. Weaver, describes Florida's "Stand Your Ground" Law's origin and effects.

Florida's "Protection of Persons/Use of Force Bill expanded an individual's legal right to use force in self-defense, including deadly force, without fear of criminal or civil consequences… Although it should have troubled the legislature that the individuals charged with enforcing the law – prosecutors and law enforcement – opposed the law, the dissent by these groups did not dissuade the Florida Legislature. The law passed with unanimous approval in the Florida Senate and passed overwhelmingly in the Florida House of Representatives. 63 U. Miami L. Rev. 395

Stand Your Ground law's catapulted into legislation with the aid of the National Rifle Association, and its pro-2nd Amendment advocacy has been controversial from the get-go. Critics suggest that these laws were adopted in such a rushed fashion that law makers didn't devote the time necessary to carefully draft precise and unambigous language on such an important subject matter. Florida police's decision to NOT arrest Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, provides a glaring illustration of how the law's current language reads and what consequences result.

UCLA law professor Adam Winkler writes in his New York Times editorial that:

" Florida legislators, however, insist the Stand Your Ground law does not provide a defense for people like Zimmerman, who pursue and confront someone. Florida Senator Durrell Peadon, who sponsored the law, said that Zimmerman 'has no protection under my law.' According to state Representative Dennis Baxley [who sponsored the bill], 'There’s nothing in this statute that authorizes you to pursue and confront people.' The law, Baxley notes, was designed only 'to prevent you from being attacked by other people'."

Professor Winkler refers us to the actual language of Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Nowhere does this law corroborate Representative Baxley and Senator Peadon's assertions that Zimmerman should NOT be shielded by a Stand Your Ground defense. Rather, the law provides citizens the right to "use of deadly force to protect other people and . . . unambiguously authorizes people to pursue and confront others."

Winkler warns: "Whatever the merits of standing your ground when personally threatened, Florida’s law goes much further and encourages vigilantism. It tells people, who today are increasingly likely to be carrying concealed weapons, that they can pretend to be police officers and use their guns to protect and serve the broader public."

Here are some alarming statistics provided by Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune:

"The St. PetersburgTimes found that five years after the law went into effect, claims of justifiable homicides in Florida more than tripled, from just over 30 to more than 100 in 2010. The stand-your-ground defense was used in 93 cases involving 65 deaths during that period, and in almost every one of them, it worked."

Stand Your Grounds' tragic consequences began before Trayvon Martin's slaying and continue to make legal precedent. Last week, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beth Bloom held that Florida defendant charged with second degree murder ( who stabbed to death an unarmed 26-year-old that he'd caught attempting to steal his truck's radio) was immune from prosecution based on the Stand Your Ground defense. His case was dismissed before going to trial. Read more on the Roteta/Garcia story and other similar cases at MiamiHerald.com/columnists.

Former Governor "Bush called the law a 'good, common-sense anti-crime' bill, " says the Chicago Tribune. " Prosecutors and gun-control advocates call it a "shoot-first" law, while other critics describe Stand Your Ground as a "license to kill and go free."

What do YOU call it?

2 Comments

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  1. bulldog4857 says:
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    This article is complete nonsense.
    SYG doesn’t authorize following and confronting
    because no authorization is needed. A free person
    may follow and peaceably confront any (stranger) they wish. It isn’t illegal. It may not be wise, but it isn’t illegal. You may NOT, however, assault someone just because they are following you or questioning you. That is a serious crime. You may reply with (deadly) force if they are threatening you with bodily injury. Unknown if Zimmerman did. If the follower is armed and they are not brandishing (weapon out and in hand), then seeing a weapon is not a-priori reason to believe that it will be used against you. We don’t know yet what was happening with the gun before the shooting, so let’s not jump to conclusions. Zimmerman didn’t need SYG to defend his action. If his claim is true, he was overpowered by Martin and could not effectively flee. A usual self-defense argument is all that is needed. In fact, if Zimmerman threatened
    Martin, Martin could have invoked the law and perhaps did. But we may never know.

  2. bobby says:
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    A gunfight should be avoided if at all possible, SHORT of the safety of your family or yourself.