The issue: Are ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws justified?
The George Zimmerman trial verdict has sparked protests across the United States. It has been transformed into a racial issue, but in reality, the decision has little to do with civil rights.
The verdict was the result of a lunatic Florida “Stand Your Ground” law. Before indulging in selfrighteous indignation against Florida, it should be understood that more than 20 other states have similar laws, crafted with advice from the National Rifle Association’s policy experts. Five states are debating enactment of laws similar to the Florida law.
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As such laws spread across the country, they progressively become more insane. Last month, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels authorized a revision to that state’s 2006 “Stand Your Ground” law. It allows property owners to defend themselves against “unlawful intrusion” by public officials, including police and firefighters. Tim Downs, president of Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police lamented, “It just puts a bounty on our heads.”
Recently, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed an “intruders bill.” It makes any killing perpetrated against a trespasser on private property “justified.” Twenty-year-old Bo Morrison was drinking at a party when the police came to break it up. Morrison was underage for drinking, and fearing arrest, he took off and stumbled on a neighbor’s porch. The homeowner shot him dead. Since it was a “justified” killing, no charges were filed thanks to “shoot first and ask questions later” legislation.
George Zimmerman, 29, was a self-appointed “watchman” for the neighborhood. While patrolling one night, he saw Trayvon Martin on a sidewalk. Martin, an unarmed teenager, was going to a neighborhood house where he was staying. Zimmerman followed Martin and called 911 reporting a person who looked “suspicious.” The police dispatcher told Zimmerman to stay in his car and let the police handle the situation. Instead, Zimmerman left car with a loaded gun concealed in his waistband. A hostile confrontation ensued, leading to a fight and ending with a single fatal shot in Martin’s heart.
The jury in the Zimmerman case had no choice but to find him “not guilty” based on judge’s instructions based on Section 776.13(3) of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. One of the instructions was:
“If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself ”
Welcome to the Wild, Wild West.
Zimmerman claimed that he shot Martin in selfdefense. Another jury instruction addressed the criterion regarding selfdefense, “If in your consideration of the issue of selfdefense you have a reasonable doubt on the question of whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you should find George Zimmerman not guilty.”
Translation: Even if the jurors had reasonable doubts that Zimmerman’s use of deadly force was not for self-defense, the law requires they find him not guilty. The gun did not have Martin’s DNA; he never touched it.
Questions: Someone has been trailing you in a car at night, he leaves the car and confronts you; wouldn’t you be afraid? Wouldn’t you defend yourself against this threat? If Zimmerman was not carrying a gun and perceived Martin to be dangerous, would he leave his car?
We claim to be a civilized society. A civilized society does not condone vigilantism and give legal permission to kill. A civilized society holds the individual who kills an innocent person accountable. The United States is a nation of laws. A nation of laws can amend or repeal existing laws deemed to have unintended devastating consequences.
Zaf Iqbal is past associate dean and professor emeritus of accounting at Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business. He volunteers with local nonprofits, including Wilshire Hospice and Caring Callers. He is past president of San Luis Obispo Democratic Club.