What Is Reasonable?

There are some words that have definitive definitions.  Most nouns bring to mind a specific object, for example: coffee, foot, flower.  But other words are more subjective, like ‘reasonable’.  What seems ‘reasonable’ to one person may not seem so to another.  When a man’s life is at stake, or a life has been taken by another, then the definition of the word ‘reasonable’ becomes critical.

Florida, famous for its Stand Your Ground law and its most infamous use as a defense in 2012 when George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, is in the process of altering the law.  As it stands, the law states that a person who kills another in ‘self-defense’ can avoid going to trial if he proves at a pretrial hearing that he was acting in reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm. The key concept here being that the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove that he was acting in genuine self-defense.

A new bill that would switch the burden of proof away from the defendant is in the works. The controversial changes to the state’s self-defense law passed the Senate 23 to 15 and is expected to be put to a vote in the House next week.  Governor Rick Scott is expected to then sign it into law.  If enacted, the defendant would no longer be responsible to prove that he acted in a reasonable manner because he believed his life was in danger, but rather it would be the burden of prosecutors to prove that the defendant did NOT act in self-defense. It would make the prosecution responsible for proving that someone who used deadly force instead of retreating from an attack was not behaving reasonably.

But this leads to a subjective argument, a slippery slope argument about what is reasonable and by whose definition.  Let us take a closer look at a couple of cases.

trayvon-martin

Trayvon Martin

We already know of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case, where neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman told authorities he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager. Never mind that when Zimmerman first noticed the teen, he was sitting safely in his vehicle and said, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.” He based his decision solely on the looks of a teenage boy because the boy was black and was wearing, as all teenagers do, a hoodie.

gun-pointingBut consider this case:  A former police officer got into an argument with another man in a movie theater.  He asked the man to stop texting during the previews prior to the movie, the exchange apparently got heated, the man threw popcorn at the former officer, and the former officer shot and killed the man.  He … threw … popcorn … and he paid with his life.  How, I ask you, is a gun an appropriate response to a handful of popcorn???  In this case, fortunately, the judge was diligent and took the time to investigate the crime scene and match it, or fail to match it, to the claims of self-defense by the defendant, former police officer Curtis Reeves.  The judge ruled that, despite Reeves’ claim of a ‘life and death struggle’, the “defendant’s testimony was significantly at odds with the physical evidence and other witness testimony”.  The judge ruled that the case did not qualify as a Stand Your Ground case and Reeves will go on trial for second-degree murder.

Which brings me back to that pesky question of ‘reasonableness’.  Was Zimmerman acting reasonably when he made the decision to exit his car without contacting local police, then confront young Martin?  Or did he have other options, such as calling local police and awaiting their arrival, meanwhile remaining safely inside his vehicle? Was Reeves acting reasonably when he responded with lethal force to a handful of popcorn?  If we are to give these people the opportunity to get off scot-free after taking the life of another in so-called ‘self-defense’, then we should be able to, at the very least, expect them to prove that they were in danger of losing their own life if they did not act.  Anything less is simply unacceptable.  The judge in the Reeves case wisely determined that Reeves did not act reasonably, but another judge might have seen it another way, might have defined ‘reasonable’ in another way.

In addition to relieving people who have killed another from having to justify their actions, the law has racially discriminatory undertones.  The American legal system’s handling of violent self-defense has long favored white, property-owning men. Nonwhite, female, poor or gender-nonconforming people have always been more likely to be punished for defending themselves and less likely to see the courts come to their aid when they are harmed. We need look no farther than the murder of Freddie Gray and the fact that nobody … not a single person … was convicted of his murder, to understand that racism is alive and well in the U.S.

The Stand Your Ground law, one form or another of which is in force in some 27 states in the U.S., including Florida, is sometimes otherwise known as the “Line in the Sand” law, or the “No Duty to Retreat” law.  In contrast, 17 states actually have “Duty to Retreat” laws that specify you can’t resort to deadly force in self-defense if you can safely avoid the risk of harm or death by running away or other evasive, less deadly measures.  Other states have a modified version of Stand Your Ground, known as Castle Doctrine, which allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense on their own property, such as their home or car, but not in a public venue.

Now, let me ask you, dear reader, a question:  Confronted with a person who you simply ‘thought’ was going to do you harm, as in both the Zimmerman and Reeves cases, what would you do?  Would you try to avoid, to leave the area, or would you shoot the other person?  For me, it is a no-brainer, as I do not own a gun and never will, but with more guns in the U.S. than there are people, and some of the most liberal gun laws in the world, it’s a pretty safe bet that almost any adult we encounter may well have a gun tucked into his belt or stashed in her purse.

The latest bill, shifting the burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases in Florida, only adds to the idea that individuals are not responsible for their fellow mankind, but are authorized to act in any way they deem fit, even taking another life, to make themselves feel safe.  These are not laws that make us safer, rather these are laws that say if a person thinks we don’t look just so, he may shoot first and ask questions later.  This was the code of the Olde West … it should not be the code of the 21st century in what was once considered a civilized nation.

Up next … Insane New Gun Laws

15 thoughts on “What Is Reasonable?

  1. Well, you do get full marks for trying, and you definitely reach a larger audience than I do. But most of my writings are not meant for large audiences, especially the stuff on spiritual atheism. Iended a poem with the lines:
    If one teach two we’re thrice as many,
    Patience! till we are the last
    I’m not out to change the lives of millions of people, just two or three at a time, and let it build on its own. Most people don’t even understand what I am talking about, so I have no fear of reaching a big audience. But then I write blogs about why PUNISHMENT BY DEATH doesn’t wiork, and why to change this world we have to take apart the nuclear family. Just the idea frightens people, and I doubt I weill ever reach the right people who can do something about it, but as long as any one or two people are allowed to bring kids up, this society, this world, will never heal. It’s totally impossible. For every great set of parents, there are 10 horrible sets of parents. Horrible parents tend to bring up horrible kids. Andf no one can stop them, especially Child Services who believe so strongly that children should be with their natural parents if at all possible, they send endangered children right back where the children are in most danger. Obviously this is a favourite topic of mine, but the more I look at the world as it is, the more I know on this subject I am right. But being right doesn’t get a person very far, while being popular does. Popularity is not on my list of what make a good person, or especially a great one.
    I’ll just say that this answer is not prefaced with “In MY Opinion” for a very good reason.
    Goodnight, and let me know when you give up on remaining “home” when there soon may be no home to go to, or no one to go to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you … and yes, you have some ideas that, while I DO find them interesting and food for thought, I don’t really share. For example, you speak of people being frightened when you talk about ‘taking apart the nuclear family’. Yes, I find that concept somewhat frightening and … extremely depressing, as it were. I will agree that some children should most assuredly be removed from their parents homes, but there are families that work quite well. My family is … my life. And, though I have certainly made mistakes, I think I have done a fair job in helping my children & grandchildren to learn humanitarian, caring values. Question for you … do you think love, such as the love MOST parents have for their children, for each other, etc., plays any role? Just curious, because some of your ideas lead me to believe that you don’t have much use for love. I must say, however, you give me food for thought and we have some interesting conversations!

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  2. Another very informative post Jill.
    Whereas in response to past posts I have taken a cautionary but upbeat approach to the future US based on its checks and balances within the constitution; the concept of a nation divided by the current frenetic state of politics, combined with lax gun laws and the sanction to use them as you see fit is troubling.
    It would seem with such laws intolerant communities could set up entire ‘no-go segregated areas’ as anyone they did not care for could be shot at with impunity. Which in turn will lead hot-leads from ‘the other side’ to organise ‘raids’ upon these communities. Go back to the ‘Bloody Kansas’ years prior to the Civil War for an example as to how this works.
    I fear there are some woefully inadequate and overly simplistic people in the political system.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed, my friend. The NRA panders to the crazies and have been instrumental in overturning or softening the few gun regulations we actually do have here. But there’s more … stay tuned later today for a few other new ‘laws’ that have come out of the woodwork lately. Many hugs!!

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  3. Dear Jill,

    I have covered the “stand your ground” laws extensively a couple of years ago. Since the “stand your ground” law passed in Florida in 2005, killings by guns have increased by 30%.This law had the backing of the NRA and ALEC, a conservative organization set up to promote conservative agendas. The Florida “stand your ground” law became the template law for other republican led states to follow.

    The republican led congress in Florida had the law in waiting looking for a case where the “stand your ground” law would apply. They based the need for this law on a “fake news” story about how an elderly man who shot an intruder in order to protect his wife, right after a hurricane had hit Florida. The story goes on to detail how the couple had to put their lives on hold for several months, while living in fear until the prosecutors decided not to charge the husband.

    The story is a bit more complicated. The supposed intruder was a well respected and highly regarded FEMA employee who was probably approaching the mobile home to offer assistance. The FEMA employee had a lovely family and was beloved by his community.

    The NRA and friends are at it again.

    According to a FL. newspaper, the Observer, On February 7, a bill, proposed by NRA-backed Florida Sen. Rob Bradley, expanding the Stand Your Ground law passed the Judiciary Committee by a 5-4 vote along party lines. The bill would shift the responsibility to the prosecution to prove that an individual “beyond a reasonable doubt” is not eligible to claim immunity under the law.

    The bill, which will likely be made law given that Republicans hold the governorship and the state legislature, has provoked immense criticism from those who worry it will cause more violence. The Miami Herald reported, “Bradley’s proposal drew immediate backlash from prosecutors and opponents of Stand Your Ground who fear the changes could flood the courts and make it easier for criminals to go unpunished. The plan also raises among critics renewed constitutional questions of double jeopardy in that requiring a burden of proof of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ would essentially force prosecutors to try a case twice, once before trial and then at trial itself.”

    “Stand Your Ground laws increase homicides, have no deterrent on serious crimes, result in racial disparities in the criminal justice system and impede law enforcement,” noted a 2014 report by the American Bar Association, recommending Stand Your Ground laws across the country be repealed or heavily scaled down. Unfortunately, Florida is doing the opposite. In addition to Bradley’s bill, 22 Florida Republican legislators have co-sponsored a companion bill that shifts the burden of overcoming the self-defense immunity from defendants to prosecutors pre-trial.”

    Frankly, this new law does not pass “constitutional” muster. But what can I say. This is Florida and yes, there are those like myself who will do their best to make sure this bill is stopped in its tracks.

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, this nation … not just Florida … is obsessed with rolling back what few gun restrictions we have actually managed to pass, like background checks, etc. It is beyond my comprehension. Thanks for the additional info, my friend! Many hugs!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think you answered your own question! A reasonable claim is one that can withstand criticism. It’s the Socratic notion of proposal and disposal. If you cannot think of a way to “dispose” of the claim, then it is reasonable to accept that claim as true. It’s the best we can do — but it is not “subjective” in that anyone can attempt to dispose of the claim and if they cannot do it, they must accept it as true. This, of course, assumes that folks approach the problem with open minds! Good post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Hugh! Yes, and it also assumes a degree, at least, of sanity on the part of all involved. Unfortunately, on this one topic more than any other, sanity seems to get packed away in an old kit bag!

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  5. I only just now used the example of a homeowner killing a Japanese student for walking towards his house, without any kind of visible weapon, or threatening look on his face. The man got off scot free because it was his right to defend his home from perceived threat or danger (or something like that). Now you tell me that is the Castle Law in action. Who were the dildo legislators who thought up such laws, or even a need for such laws. Being Canadian, where we have a form of gun control, (unless you’re an officer of the law, in theory the law actually pertains to cops too, but in the real world they can do just about anything they want with a few months off work WITH PAY) if you do have to use a firearm, you are to aim for a knee or a leg, but better you don’t use it at all, because you should not even have a gun on you, it should by law be locked in a metal container and put out of reach of children, so you can be charged with unlawful possession of a gun, and firing a gun within city limits, even if you don’t get convicted of murder. The thing is, there is some kind of consequence in Canada, while it seems there are many States where there is no consequence at all. Also, I recently took to task (An Answer to PUNISHMENT BY DEATH) the double jeopardy law you have where a person cannot be charged with the same crime twice. With the number of technicalities and loopholes good lawyers can find, a real killer, say OJ Simpson, can get away with murder while an innocent person can be found guilty and executed for a crime he did not commit. I really don’t understand how peace-loving people such as yourself can stand to live in so violent a country. It’s like playing Russian Roulette every time you walk out of your house, or like an atheist trying to convince a god-fearing person there is no God, it will NEVER happen. It takes more than words to separate a person from their beliefs, and the only one who can convince them differently is themselves.
    I’m with you all the way on this one, Jill, but I doubt you will make any headway. How many President’s have been shot to death in your country, how many stars like John Lennon or Marvin Gaye, even supposed assassins like Lee Harvey Oswald, how many children being killed by guns will it take for Americans to wake up to the fact that guns make killing easy, completely impersonal, and mostly unpredictable when used at a distance. I am a pacifist, and I will always be a pacifist, but were Charlton Heston killed by a bullet instead of dying of pneumonia I would not have shed one tear for the man who literally stopped the anti-gun lobby in the States all by himself. But life is seldom just, and maybe in the end that is a good thing. But, maybe not.

    Liked by 3 people

    • All excellent points! I wish I could answer even one of your questions, but I am as puzzled by it all as you are! I have a good friend who advocates gun “rights” and has even suggested that it is our “civic duty” to have a loaded gun with us at all times. I asked him once whether he might feel differently if one of his kids was accidentally killed by a gun, and his reply? It won’t happen because my kids are too smart for that to happen. There is just no sense in the discussions about guns and responsibility. As to how I can live here, being a lover of peace and humanity, and a hater of guns & violence … this is my home. I hate so much of what I see in this country: guns, racism, homophobia, entitlement, income gap, healthcare industry … and for a time, I seriously considered moving to Canada. That may yet happen. But after I thought about it, I thought I would rather stay and try to make a difference, even a small one. I know I probably don’t get through to the people who need to hear the message, but it certainly won’t be for a lack of trying! 🙂

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