Guest Post by Steve Hall
The shooting death of Trayvon Martin on February 26 has turned the nation’s attention to newly-controversial laws in several dozen states. Known as Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine, the laws do not require someone to retreat before using deadly force when their life is in immediate danger. Shortly after the Martin shooting there was a quick rush to judgment about these laws by the media, civil rights activists, lawyers and politicians who should know better than to react in typical knee-jerk fashion.
Since the time of the shooting, there have been calls to change the law in states where these self-defense laws are validated. Some politicians, such as Michael J. Zalewski, Democratic state senator from Illinois, called for a quick change to laws in an Op-ed piece that appeared in US News & World Report on March 28. Zalewski, whose home state has its own version of castle doctrine law, claims that such laws create a “wild west mentality” which allows an individual to be the “judge, jury and executioner.”
The same arguments were made by politicians like Zalewski when states considered passing concealed carry laws. Going back to the mid-1990s, one can find false predictions of a return to the Wild West days where all disagreements were settled with the gun.
There have been three recent court rulings in which stand your ground was unsuccessfully used as a defense: one in Texas and two in Florida. All three shootings took place in 2010. In Florida, Trevor Dooley shot and killed someone after an altercation turned physical at a local park. Also in Florida, Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for recklessly shooting at her abusive husband with her children nearby. Alexander unsuccessfully used the stand your ground law as her defense. With the case in Texas, Raul Rodriquez shot his neighbor in a dispute over loud music. He has been convicted of murder and is awaiting sentencing.
Some states, like Utah – where I live, have had a stand your ground law in place since 1994. The bill was sponsored by a Democrat who was concerned that domestic violence victims could not adequately defend themselves against their abuser.
Now it seems these very same laws are coming under attack by anti-gun and anti-carry activists. These groups are now recycling the same arguments they used against concealed carry to apply to stand your ground laws.
Whether or not the stand your ground defense will fail for Zimmerman is for a jury to decide. It seems that the only individuals attempting to be “judge, jury and executioner” when it comes to firearms – are those against stand your ground as a legitimate defense when appropriate.