There’s the not-so-old belief that everything we need to know, we learned in kindergarden, and lately I tend to believe it. Case in point is Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law that’s received much attention in the media lately. In case you’ve been lucky enough to avoid hearing about this law, it empowers a citizen who feels they are in danger of death or great bodily harm to use deadly force to defend themselves…and not be arrested. From the Florida statutes:
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.
In two cases lately here in Florida, the highly publicized Trayvon Martin case, and the lesser known David James shooting, this Stand Your Ground law breaks the Kindergarden Rule: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
In Martin’s case, we may never know what really happened, as there were no eyewitnesses – but as he was unarmed, he carried no equivalent to sticks or stones, and nothing he did could’ve killed or “greatly harmed” George Zimmerman.
In the David James case, James did no more than yell at his killer, Trevor Dooley. Words could never harm Dooley, yet he shot and killed a Gulf War veteran because of them.
Hanging this entire thing on the “reasonable belief” that someone is going to kill you or cause “great bodily harm,” is a bad idea. For one thing, a great many people simply are not reasonable enough to make this assessment. If someone flips you off in traffic, are you in imminent danger, because they may be a road-rager and about to T-Bone your car? If you cut in line at the supermarket and get yelled at – is the yeller going to cause you bodily harm? In either case should you whip out your Glock and wave it around?
More importantly, the mere act of carrying a deadly weapon on your person negates the threat – unless one’s attacker is similarly carrying a deadly weapon, they simply cannot present a reasonable threat. The gun you carry ensures that any unarmed person who yells at you is simply not a deadly threat. Sure, you could get beat up, and nobody thinks that’s pleasant…but a punch in the nose is not a good enough reason to kill another person.
I need to say here that I like guns. I think they are a very cool machine – the intricacy, the precision, the workmanship are impressive. I own several guns, in fact. I grew up in Michigan, where there are various hunting seasons, and almost everyone owns at least one gun.
However, I have never felt like I needed a gun to protect myself. Until now. Now, I am afraid that I may be minding my own business, just as Martin and James were minding their own business, and someone may find something I do to be threatening and pull a gun on me. I feel unprotected; I feel vulnerable; I feel unable to protect myself or my family without a gun.
I understand why Florida passed this law, and the intent is noble – without a Stand Your Ground rule, someone could break into my home and try to rape or kill one of my little girls; I could shoot them dead…and then I would go to jail. Even if I was ultimately acquitted, it would take a year to go through arraignments, trial, etc. A year spent not working, not supporting my family, not able to be a father to my children. This type of law allows me to defend my family and not ruin our lives by doing so – it allows me to never have to choose between ruining my family by defending them and going to jail…or ruining my family by letting an attacker kill or rape my daughters.
But in this society, this law simply doesn’t work. In these two cases, and I’m sure in more than this, the Stand Your Ground law has been used as a free pass to commit murder, as in both cases, the killer did not exercise good judgment in assessing whether the threat that presented itself was actually deadly.
Further, I believe that in both cases, the killer did not possess enough responsibility to be allowed to carry a deadly weapon. In both cases, the killer went out looking for trouble, and brought their gun with them, and killed someone. Florida has a very relaxed carry law – for about $100 and a few forms, I could be approved to carry a concealed weapon. And for the first time, I seriously want one.
So, delving a bit deeper into this law, I realize that I am having my 1st Amendment right to free expression stifled by this law. I now feel that I cannot yell at someone who knocks my kid over on the sidewalk, because I may be shot. If I flip someone off in traffic (not that I ever do that) I realize that the other party may fear for their life because I was interpreted as a road-rager. I feel that if I express any angry emotions, I may be at risk of losing my life. As in the David James case, I fear that if I stick up for another who is being picked on, I may be shot and lose my life. I feel like my ability to express myself is being stifled by the Stand Your Ground law.
This would be less of a problem in a part of the country that was less intolerant of those with different beliefs, and in a part of the country with a much reduced pressure to conform in word and deed. I fear that someone may be shot dead simply because they disagreed with the shooter. Few things bring out the nasty language like an argument about politics, and I’m not a conservative republican like most of the population here in Florida. Could I get myself shot because I don’t agree with some of the Rush-think that comes out of my neighbors’ mouths? Do I need to smile and agree with their word-spew?
So, we’re left with this Stand Your Ground law. We can’t remove it because it does provide some pretty serious help when faced with a legitimate attacker. We can’t keep it because it’s being abused and used to legitimize murder. And we’re left with this imperfect law that allows the George Zimmerman’s and Trevor Dooley’s of the state to go looking for trouble…and I don’t like it.