Since its inception in 2005, I have believed that Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law was an open invitation to abuse and vigilante violence. The law eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before resorting to using deadly force. It also gave judges — before the case is ever heard by a jury — greater leeway to grant ‘immunity’ to someone they find acted in self-defense.
The murder of young Trayvon Martin in 2012 reinforced my initial opinion. A security guard with a gun and a chip on his shoulder against black people, George Zimmerman, shot and killed a 17-year-old, unarmed African-American man without consequence. Since then, he has been in trouble with the law numerous times, has bragged about his evil deed, and profited from selling the gun he used to commit murder, all with no consequence. All because he claimed he acted in self-defense, claimed that young Trayvon Martin was physically assaulting him, although Trayvon weighed about 1/3 as much as Mr. Zimmerman.
Although Florida was the first, it was far from the last to pass a Stand Your Ground law. After Mr. Zimmerman’s successful plea, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have all passed similar laws. Since 2005, the average annual number of ‘justifiable’ homicides jumped by 200% in Florida.
The most recent case involves a North Miami man who claims he stood his ground and shot an unarmed ex-lover — inside the women’s bathroom at Denny’s.
Sean Barnes will ask a judge on Wednesday to dismiss an attempted murder charge, claiming his ex-girlfriend, Brooke Tuchinsky, appeared to “grab a shiny object” from her purse after he followed her into the restroom at the North Miami diner in August 2013.
Barnes shot her once in the face. Tuchinsky had no weapon. Detectives found her purse closed.
(Ovalle, Miami-Herald, 10 August 2016)
Barnes and Tuchinsky, had been in a contentious relationship, with Ms. Tuchinsky claiming that Mr. Barnes had recently said “I bought a new gun and would love to use it on you and make it look like an accident or self-defense.” On the day of the attempted killing, Barnes claimed that Tuchinsky sent a slew of text messages, using racial slurs against him, while insisting they meet to answer questions for “real closure.”
At this point, the details are unconfirmed and a back-and-forth of ‘he-said, she-said’ that are irrelevant to this discussion. The incident took place in August 2013, but the trial is set to begin this week. Ms. Tuchinsky did survive the attack and is expected to appear in court this week.
Regardless of the outcome of the Barnes/Tuchinsky case, one must consider the Stand Your Ground laws and ask if laws like this make any sense. After the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case, I was certain that the state would repeal, or at the very least modify the law. Seeing Mr. Zimmerman acquitted on all counts was an abomination, as it was clear that he used unnecessary and excessive force. It should have been a wake-up call for citizens and legislators that this law was nothing less than a free pass for murder. Obviously I was mistaken.
The United States has between 11,000 – 12,000 gun-related homicides each year, and we want to now make murder a crime for which there is no responsibility for a person to think before taking a life? Pat him on the back and say, “There, there … it’s okay … you go on home now, and by the way … here is your gun back.”
Long before the recent advent of Stand Your Ground laws, traditional self-defense principles gave Americans the legal right to “stand their ground” and use non-deadly force to protect themselves from an attacker, as long as their use of force was reasonably necessary. Prior to using deadly force, however, people generally had a legal “duty to retreat” or take other measures to avoid taking another person’s life if they could do so safely. Like other areas of law, this principle encouraged the use of non-deadly force, and favored de-escalation of conflicts when that was possible. Deadly force was legally justified — but only as a means of last resort. Let us look at just a few statistics:
- Handgun homicides with a single shooter and victim who are strangers to one another — are twice as likely to be deemed justifiable in Stand Your Ground states as they are elsewhere. 7.2% of such homicides in non-Stand Your Ground states were deemed justifiable, while 13.6% of the same type of homicides in Stand Your Ground states were deemed justifiable.
- The increase in justifiable homicides has disproportionately affected the African American population. When white shooters kill black victims, 34% of the resulting homicides are deemed justifiable, while only 3.3% of deaths are ruled justifiable when the shooter is black and the victim is white.
- Stand Your Ground laws in six states forbid police from arresting a shooter who claims self-defense unless they find evidence to disprove the shooter’s claim. Police typically begin accumulating evidence by interviewing the shooter, and a shooter who is presumed to have acted lawfully has little incentive to cooperate with an investigation. If the victim is dead and there are no other witnesses, it may be impossible for the police to proceed with the investigation.
Herman Goering, one of Adolph Hitler’s trusted advisors, is quoted as saying “Shoot first and ask questions later, and don’t worry, no matter what happens, I will protect you.” That seems to be the mentality behind Stand Your Ground laws. So why have more states added such laws, rather than repealing them? Make a wild guess. Yes, folks, our friends at the National Rifle Association (NRA) spend millions of dollars every year ensuring that guns are readily available to all who want them, and with their widespread support since 2004 of Stand Your Ground laws, they are also ensuring that when a person commits murder using a gun, he/she will not be held accountable. One of the goals of the NRA is to see Stand Your Ground laws passed in every state, and to expand existing laws to include immunity from civil, as well as criminal suits.
As recently as last year, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush defended the Stand Your Ground laws at the NRA’s annual meeting, saying “In Florida we protected people’s rights to protect themselves.” So, I ask you, who protects the innocent who happen to come upon one of these trigger-happy, gun lovers? When do our citizens awaken to the fact that the U.S. needs to make some changes? Long ago I gave up the plea to overturn the 2nd Amendment, however I continue to state my case for sensible, effective and enforceable gun regulations. Even more is needed, however, and that is accountability. The gun proponents blather on and on about “law-abiding citizens”, but under Stand Your Ground laws, it is easy to be thought of as a law-abiding citizen, since the law says it is okay to shoot and kill, just as long as you can claim that you thought you were in danger.