Speed Reads


John Oliver shoots down 'Stand Your Ground' laws, America's 'Rosetta Stone for Justified Homicides'

Guns are everywhere in America, "but this story isn't so much about guns themselves as it is about one particular law that significantly expanded how they're used," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "Stand Your Ground" laws, on the books in 30 states, "were originally pitched as a law-and-order measure to protect people forced to make difficult decision in impossible life-or-death situations," but "in practice, they can be invoked in incidents that really seem like they didn't need to turn deadly."

"Don't worry, we're not going to show you the far-too-plentiful footage of people getting shot in public places tonight — frankly, we're just one senseless murder away from HBO Max putting this show in the 'Endless Parade of Human Misery' category, alongside Chernobyl and Entourage," Oliver joked darky. "But given the prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws and the racial disparities in who they do and, crucially, don't protect, we thought tonight it would be worth taking a look at them."

Stand Your Ground laws are "redundant solutions to a made-up problem and they are actively doing harm," Oliver said. Basically, "if you have a reasonable fear someone might hurt you, you have just as much right to shoot them in the street as you would if they were coming though the window of your house." One woman, gun lobbyist Marion Hammer, has done more than anyone to push through these laws, he explained, running through her story.

A big problem with the laws is "it all comes down to perceived fear, whether you legitimately saw someone as a threat, and that is definitionally subjective," Oliver said. "And it's made even harder by the fact that often the only other person who knows what happened in the incident is now dead." There are literal scripts for how to describe fatal shootings to avoid jail, he added. "It seems all you have to do is memorize a few key phrases, and you too could be free to shoot with impunity. It's basically Rosetta Stone for Justified Homicides."

"Stand Your Ground laws have contributed to a society where vigilantes with guns feel they have the right to decide what is safety, who is a threat, and what the punishment should be," Oliver said. "They have turbo-charged everything from road rage incidents to pointless disputes over dog weights." And yes, that last dispute is real. Watch below.