As the Trayvon Martin case continues to dominate the media lawmakers are beginning to take a second look at the “stand your ground laws” currently in force in 23 states. The Stand Your Ground Law, wildly popular among NRA members and gun enthusiasts, states that a person may use deadly force for self defense. Deadly force is justified if a person is gravely threatened in the home, or “any other place where he or she has a right to be.”
Most states have long allowed the use of reasonable force, sometimes including deadly force, to protect oneself inside the home. This is known as the Castle Doctrine. Outside the home, people generally have a duty to retreat from the attacker, if possible, to avoid a confrontation. In Florida, there is no duty to retreat, inside the home or out.
The question is who decides if a particular person is “gravely threatened”? That which may be considered a “grave threat” to one person may be a common everyday occurrence to another. And what jury is going to tell someone whether or not they had the right to feel threatened. Many fears are developed over time; the result of a combination of lifelong personal experiences. One size does not fit all.
The ambiguity in this law has the potential to lead to an increase in vigilantism and a false sense of security among those who carry or are deciding whether or not to carry a firearm. Those states that follow the “stand your ground, no duty to retreat law” have seen an increase in deadly force cases. “I felt threatened…so I shot him.”
In the Trayvon Martin case the Sanford police said they were prohibited from arresting the shooter, George Zimmerman, because Zimmerman said he shot Martin because he feared for his life. Zimmerman neglected to tell law enforcement officers on the scene that he was pursuing Martin when the shooting occurred; a fact borne out by Zimmerman’s own call to 911. Did Zimmerman pursue Martin embolden by the belief that if Martin simply turned and took a step toward Zimmerman he (Zimmerman) had the right to fire under the current law?
The “Stand your Ground" law is a bad law…period. It is ambiguous at best and opens the floodgates for anyone with a grudge and a gun. Got a beef with someone? Get him in a place with no witnesses… shoot him…and then claim you were threatened.
In Sanford, Florida…no questions asked.