Unless you have been living under a rock for a couple of weeks, you know about the shooting death Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Everyone from Nancy Grace to President Obama has weighed in on the tragedy, and it has reignited the problem of racism in America. It has also brought about debate over what have become known as “stand your ground” laws, not only in Florida, but in a number of States.
“Stand your ground” laws are meant to define when and if the use of deadly force is appropriate. Most of them are drafted and promoted by the NRA, and State legislatures have passed them, using the model provided by the NRA. The problem is that, like many of our government representative, they didn’t take the time to read the damn thing. Now, after the death of this teenager, they are finally going to have to take a good hard look at what they have created.
Florida’s law is titled Justifiable Use of Force, under Title XLVI, Chapter 776.013, with a subset of definitions – Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear or death or great bodily harm. As you read it, it becomes apparent that there is language in the law that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. One particular phrase pertaining to the use of deadly force, and which I found to be less than clear or concise, reads as follows:
“he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.”
Couple that with another provision contained in the law – “to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony,” and George Zimmerman, the individual who shot Trayvon Martin, has a pretty good defense for his actions, as irresponsible and moronic as they may appear to us. Many States have laws that require that an individual must be in fear for their life or the lives of others, and must be unable to escape a hostile attack. This bill does not require any sort of retreat – just “stand your ground”, or maybe just follow someone you fear, like a teenager with a can of ice tea and a box of Twizzlers.
When Florida first entertained the idea of passing the law, prosecutors across the State argued against it, trying to convince the legislators that it would turn Florida into the wild West. Apparently, they weren’t entirely wrong. Since its passage, the State has seen the number of cases of justifiable homicide triple. Its two main sponsors, Senator Durrell Peadon, and Representative Dennis Baxley, are now saying that this was not what they had intended when they brought the law up for debate. Baxley is still defending the law as a good and useful one. I think it’s left a number of us with real questions, and given some people a license to kill.