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Scoot: Do "stand your ground" laws encourage violence?

A 47-year-old man at a gas station in Jacksonville, FL was annoyed by a car full of teenagers who were apparently blaring music from the car.  The man asked them to turn it down, at which point he claims he felt threatened by the way the teenagers talked to him and told police he thought he saw a gun in the car.  He went to his car – got his gun – and opened fire into the vehicle killing a 17-year-old teen.  Police found no gun in the teenagers’ car.

The defense has rested in the trial of Michael  Dunn is charged with 1st-degree murder and is claiming that he opened fire into the vehicle with the teenagers because he felt threatened and Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law could easily become a major part of this trial and will undoubtedly reignite the national debate that was spawned during the trial of George Zimmerman.

While there may be some parallels with the two cases, there are also distinct differences.  There will always be a doubt in the minds of many about whether George Zimmerman actually felt that his life was threatened during a physical altercation with Trayvon Martin and could the altercation have been prevented with different actions by bother Martin and Zimmerman.  In that case, there was a physical altercation lending legal credibility to the defense of “stand your ground.”  After considering that legal defense, a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty.

In the case of 46-year-old Michael Dunn, after he felt threatened he allegedly went to his vehicle and retrieved a gun – then voluntarily walked over to the vehicle with the teenagers he claimed were threatening and opened fire into the car.  How could anyone claim their life was threatened if they made the conscious decision to place themselves in what they describe as a threatening situation?

In claiming self-defense, an individual will face the challenge of convincing the court that his or her life was actually threatened.  The burden of proof is on the prosecution and every defendant is innocent until proven guilty, but the case will revolve around some justification of a threat to life. 

The controversy over “stand your ground” laws, now on the books in over 20 states, surrounds the laws’ protection of any individual firing a weapon and killing or injuring someone in self-defense.  Without “stand your ground” laws, there are already laws that allow citizens to use deadly force against intruders or anyone that is a threat to life or property, but with strong consideration given to retreat. The “stand your ground” laws provide additional protection in the claim of self-defense by removing any requirement to retreat.

An important question to be answered about all “stand your ground” laws is – do these laws encourage the use of deadly force?  It is also appropriate to consider if some individuals would have placed themselves in threatening situations if they did not have immediate access to a gun?

The trial of George Zimmerman legitimately raised these questions.  Many believe that Zimmerman would never have gotten out of his truck if he had not been armed.

In another high-profile case in Texas, a retired Houston firefighter, Raul Rodriquez, killed a neighbor during an argument about a noisy party at the neighbor’s house.  Rodriquez went to the home of a neighbor, Kelly Danaher, to confront her about noise from a party.  During an argument, which was videotaped by Rodriquez, he is heard saying at one point, “My life is in danger now” and “these people are going to go try to kill me.” He also said, “I’m standing my ground here.”  

Rodriquez shot and killed his neighbor and injured two of her male friends.  In his defense, he claimed that one of the males made a move that he felt was threatening.  But on the video, Rodriquez was obviously setting up his own defense by claiming his life was in danger and he was standing his ground.  

The state of Texas has a “Castle Doctrine” law, which is similar to “stand your ground” laws on the books in other states.  Rodriquez was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Violent crime, even murder, among America’s youth has actually declined down to the lowest point since 1993, but the perception is that crime is increasing dramatically and many argue that we should all be armed to defend ourselves against the criminal element.  

“Stand your ground” laws have appeased those Americans who believe that citizens should have more legal protection in situations where guns are arguably used proactively.  But it’s fair to question whether these laws have also catered to some gun-happy Americans.

With complete respect for the Second Amendment and gun ownership in America and with respect for EVERY American’s right to defend themselves, “stand your ground” laws seem to feed a growing sense that citizens must become more aggressive in fighting crime.  

Being more aggressive against crime can be a positive thing, but not if it encourages some armed citizens to aggressively take the law into their own hands when settling a confrontation might otherwise have been averted by retreat.  If retreat is a possibility wouldn’t everyone chose that action? Sadly, there seems to be a growing desire to seek revenge against perpetrators. Gun ownership should be based on protecting life and property – not revenge.

Anyone who is too quick to stand behind a “stand your ground” law may be using the law to support a predisposed mentality that essentially supports gun violence and the use of guns as the only answer – when credible gun instructors teach that the use of a gun is a last resort, not an early option.

Tags :  
Topics : Law_Crime
Social :
Locations : FloridaHoustonJacksonvilleTexas
People : George ZimmermanKelly DanaherMartinMichael DunnRaul Rodriquez

02/04/2014 5:26PM
​Scoot: Do “stand your ground” laws encourage violence?
Please Enter Your Comments Below
02/05/2014 2:41PM
I'm not opposed to the idea of self defense. The problem with the stand your ground laws, pushed generally by a non legislative think tank known as ALEC - is that most of them don't have a retreat obligation. To put it simply - the law doesn't say that if you can retreat you should. My common sense tells me if you can get out of a confrontation in any way, do it. Firing a shot is a last resort. These people are using "self defense" to excuse a desire to "deal with" what they view as the problems in society in a violent way - there is a place for standing your ground, but not if you, like GZ, could avoid the violence entirely.
02/11/2014 11:43PM
SYG - Beneficial to all
The Rodriquez case showed that when SYG is used without evidence to back up the claim, justice is done. The other benefit is that civil cases are blocked if the criminal case is dismissed, basically why should someone that uses force in self defense be placed where he can loose all his wealth to fend off civil lawsuits. Continued use of the Zimmerman case is not productive since the jury settled the question of justification. The people against SYG are exactly the same people that claim gun ownership is only for members of government controlled militia. Criminal violence is down, at least partially, because criminals consider the possibility that their victim might shoot back.
02/12/2014 6:29AM
Zimmerman did not invoke SYG
Do a little research
02/12/2014 7:29AM
Cower if you must
"If retreat is a possibility wouldn’t everyone chose that action? Sadly, there seems to be a growing desire to seek revenge against perpetrators." Retreat IS always a possibility, sometimes possibility doesn't present itself. Most people will retreat if given the option. It's not a desire for revenge, it's called self defense.
02/12/2014 3:15PM
Rule of Thumb - Justification for Self Defense
A common rule of thumb is that the threat must show Ability, Opportunity and Intent to do serious immediate harm to the victim. A reasonable level of fear based on the facts that the victim knew at the time is required. Anger or Revenge is never a reason for justification. Part of the issue is that people think that gun training is merely the act of pulling the trigger and hitting your target enough times to qualify. Training also involves the mental exercises necessary to know when and under what conditions you will use deadly force for protection.
02/13/2014 10:49PM
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