Do “Stand Your Ground” laws encourage reckless vigilantes? Civil rights groups, gun-control activists, and some Democratic lawmakers are calling for a repeal of the self-defense laws passed in two dozen states, to prevent more tragedies like the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. “This bill actually encourages people to shoot their way out of situations,” said Florida Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith. “That’s not how we live in a civilized society.” The laws authorize people to use deadly force if they believe their lives are in danger, with no duty to retreat to safety if that’s possible. As a result, swaths of America have become free-fire zones, said O.H. Eaton Jr.in the Orlando Sentinel. Homicide rates are 9 percent higher in states with Stand Your Ground, and a study found that people are far more likely to be acquitted under the law if they shoot black people. In one 2008 case, two gang members in Tallahassee went free after a shoot-out that left a 15-year-old rival dead. “All this sounds like the Wild West and not 21st-century Florida.”
Stand Your Ground is not a license to kill, said Charles Cooke in NationalReview.com. In fact, virtually every state’s version of this law, including Florida’s, specifically states that a defendant who has “the deliberate intention of provoking the other party” into attacking him cannot claim self-defense. It’s worth remembering why these laws were passed in the first place, said John Lott Jr. in The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Prior to ‘Stand Your Ground,’ citizens had to retreat as far as possible and then announce to the criminal that they were going to shoot.” People were attacked or killed as they sought to move an acceptable distance away from their assailant. And prosecutors sometimes charged citizens who defended themselves, claiming they should have done a better job of retreating. All Stand Your Ground does is clear up this mess and enshrine a basic right to self-defense.
Like it or not, said Sean Sullivan in WashingtonPost.com, Stand Your Ground isn’t going away. Most states with the statute have legislatures controlled by the pro-gun GOP, which is unlikely to repeal a measure popular with the NRA and the party’s base. In addition, many state legislatures have already concluded their business for the year. When they reconvene in a few months, passions over Trayvon Martin’s death will have cooled, and the status quo will prevail.