Friday, May 17, 2013

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart?

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. [Luke 6:27-29]

According to Brendan Fischer of PR Watch, Florida's 2005 Stand Your Ground law changed criminal justice and civil law codes by giving legal immunity to a person who, according to the statute, uses "deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm." It goes beyond the common law notion of self defense by establishing presumption in a shooter's favor. This means prosecutors must disprove a killer's assertion that they felt threatened, as opposed to the shooter having to establish they acted reasonably and in self defense. It also bars the deceased's family from bringing a civil suit.
Marion Hammer at Jeb Bush's right hand as he signs Florida's Stand Your Ground Law
Florida's Stand Your Ground law was drafted by the former president (1995 - 1998) of the National Rifle Association, Marion Hammer, the NRA's first female president, and now a lobbyist for the NRA and the gun industry. Hammer worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to make the Florida law a model for other states, and the NRA and ALEC have made it a priority to promulgate the law nationwide.

The NRA, with ALEC's help has been eminently successful in seeding the United States with stand your ground, or as it's called in some states,"castle doctrine" laws. Twenty-three states have such 'shoot first' laws, and all but 5 states and the District of Columbia have laws that permit deadly force against an intruder in the home or workplace, or in the case of Alaska, "any place a person has the right to be," which in effect, makes it a stand your ground law.

In 2012, the Tampa Bay Times conducted a study of Florida's stand your ground law and called its findings "shocking." Of those who invoke "stand your ground" to avoid prosecution, nearly 70 percent have gone free. Of defendants claiming "stand your ground" 73% of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white. In nearly a third of the cases the Times analyzed, defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim, and still went free.

A nationwide study by two Texas A&M researchers showed that stand your ground laws do not deter burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. In contrast, they lead to a statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters.

On the night of February 26, 2012, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator for a gated community in Sanford, Florida, pursued, confronted, and shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a black teenager. Martin was visiting his father's fiancee and her son at the gated community, something he'd done several times previously. Zimmerman told the police he followed Martin because, "he looked suspicious," and claimed he shot Martin in self-defense. After questioning Zimmerman, the Sanford police released him without charges based on their interpretation of Florida's stand-your-ground law.

Young George Zimmerman was raised a Catholic and served as an alter boy at his church, so why was he carrying a gun during his neighborhood watch detail, why did he pursue Trayvon Martin, and why did he shoot and kill the teenager? What happened to "Thou shalt not kill" [Exodus 20:13]. What happened to 'turn the other cheek?' And what is happening across the nation? Are we seeing a shift away from the sense of community and the common good, and towards an 'us-versus-them' mentality? Is the NRA's strident 'shoot first' message more powerful than the church's message of peace and love?

Interestingly, the states quickest to implement stand your ground laws are in the so-called "bible belt." When asked what they felt could be done to reduce gun violence, only 8% of evangelical christians said gun control. Most (36%) said putting more emphasis on God and morality was the most important thing that could be done. But apparently not the God for whom Exodus 20:13 meant what it said.

As President Obama said in an unguarded moment, the people in the bible belt do indeed "cling to their guns and bibles," but it is their guns in which they place their trust.


Irene said...

Just a clarifying point: "stand your ground," and,"castle doctrine" laws are very very different.

The main difference stems from the requirement for "preclusion" and the "duty to retreat." Duty to Retreat means that you, as a civiian (i.e. non-law-enforcement-officer) have a responsibility to leave a situation that is or is about to be violent if you safely can. You are only permitted to use violence in 'self defence' if you can justify "preclusion" - which means that you could not leave. (Most self-defence cases fall apart here because "I had to shoot him! He was threatening to kill me!" "Why didn't you just leave the bar?" If you were not prevented from leaving, you cannot claim self defence.)

Castle doctrine" in general means that in your own home, you do NOT have a duty to retreat, and you can justify violence in self defence with no requirement to prove preclusion. If you feel threatened inside your home, for instance due to an intruder, you may use lethal force - you are not required to depart.

"Stand your ground" laws eliminate the preclusion requirement for the use of violence in locations where you 'generally have a reasonable right to be.' (The wording varies.) But this means that in public locations, if you feel threatened, you are not, legally, required to depart.

All of the other requirements for a legal claim of self defence still stand.

Richard Badalamente said...

Thanks for your clarification, Irene. You are technically correct, however when states amend their Castle laws to include language allowing deadly force "in any place a person has a right to be" ( as some have), then the Castle Doctrine is equivalent to stand your ground.