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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

While We Agree With Louisville Courier Journal's Editorial: 'Stand Your Ground'? Stop The MADness, We Disagree That There Should Be A Need To Retreat In Defense Of Life Or Property, And "Castle Doctrine" Works Well.

Editorial | 'Stand your ground'? Stop the madness

If anything positive is to come of the heartless and unnecessary killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, it should be close scrutiny and rejection of the odious “stand your ground” laws that have been embraced by more than 30 state legislatures.

There’s no way to tell whether the law — which basically allows a person who feels threatened to shoot and kill his antagonist, even if a non-deadly retreat is feasible — led to Mr. Martin’s death. The man who killed him, neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman, was armed legally with a firearm, for the simple reason that the gun insanity that grips the United States allows almost any adult to be so armed. That’s a situation emulated by no other developed society in the world.

Regardless of what thoughts were rattling around inside Mr. Zimmerman’s brain, however, Florida’s “stand your ground” law is certainly responsible for the absence of any criminal charge to date against Mr. Zimmerman — a development that is responsible for so much of the national outrage sparked by the tragedy. Indeed, prosecutors overruled a police homicide investigator’s recommendation that Mr. Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence under the state’s “stand your ground” statute, although a review of the case continues.

If Mr. Zimmerman is able to avoid charges completely, it will mean this: An armed man in a motor vehicle, who ignores police directives not to follow a teenager whom he views as suspicious, and then shoots and kills the young man who is carrying only a cellphone, iced tea and a bag of Skittles, does not even have to answer a criminal charge or defend himself against civil liability.

The “stand your ground” wave has some understandable roots beyond the raw power of American gun mania. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks — and again after reports of looting in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan in Florida in 2004 and of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in 2005 — many people understandably felt fearful and secure. Some people genuinely believed steps needed to be taken to give law-abiding citizens the upper hand.

But the “stand your ground” cause was also pushed relentlessly by the National Rifle Association, whose vision of a fully armed citizenry suits the financial interest of its principal backers, gun manufacturers. With hefty campaign contributions and potent endorsements, the NRA manipulates legislatures and bullies opponents.

Kentucky and Indiana regrettably joined the list of states that signed on to “stand your ground” laws. Officials say the laws infrequently come into play, but as Courier-Journal reporter Andrew Wolfson wrote Sunday, there are instances in both states where they have caused police and prosecutors to tread lightly after killings.

Two points stand out as critically important.

The first is that “stand your ground” laws can greatly complicate prosecution. State’s attorneys in Florida argue that gang killings, and even murders for hire, can be justified as necessary to repel a “threat,” even when the shooter initiated the confrontation.

The second is that the laws achieve little positive that would outweigh their capacity for tragedy. FBI statistics show that nationally the number of justifiable homicides jumped from 192 in 2005 to just 278 in 2010, the last full year for which statistics are available. Even if every one of those deaths was unavoidable and saved an innocent life — a preposterous supposition on its face — they constitute a small percentage of the 31,513 deaths from firearms in 2010, 11,015 of which were homicides.

The notion that widespread gun ownership makes Americans safer is a lie, spread deliberately by the NRA and “gun rights” extremists. Guns actually make America a far bloodier and more violent society than can be explained in any other way.

Centuries of legal tradition give people the right to use deadly force when genuinely threatened with death or severe injury. That protection would continue in the absence of “stand your ground” laws.

There is no benefit to ‘stand your ground” laws that allow the taking of a life when leaving the scene, screaming or calling for law-enforcement help would suffice. States, including Kentucky and Indiana, should purge or weaken these terrible statutes.

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