Sunday, February 16, 2014

Why Stand Your Ground Is a Terrible Law

The weekend news has been how a Jacksonville FL jury held shooter Michael Dunn in the Jordan Davis killing guilty of three counts of attempted murder for firing at the three teen friends with Davis that cold night of November 2012... and how that same jury locked up into a mistrial over Davis' own death.

It defies logic that Dunn will be held accountable for the murder attempts he missed... and yet was pretty much let go over the murder he did succeed in committing. (the state prosecutor's office says it will retry on the murder charge)

But there's a reason logic is getting stomped on here: it's because of a poorly-designed, open-ended, free-for-all free-for-gunowners law called Stand Your Ground (SYG).

The impact this law has had on Florida and other states applying SYG is pretty shocking.  Shooting deaths have gone up in states where the shooters claim self-defense under SYG.  Worse, about a third (34 percent) of the shootings when it's white shooter/black victim are deemed justifiable, while only three percent of black shooter/white victim are deemed justifiable.  That this law exposes the raw nerve of race is hard for me to focus on at the moment, and better explained by better writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates (please follow the link to what he wrote).  I'm better off ranting instead about how stupid and destructive SYG is.

Under the old laws regarding self-defense, it relied a lot on location - your own home or workplace where you have an expectation of self-defense - and it relied on the situation where you or someone else were threatened with bodily harm and there was no other recourse (no escape route or method to contact the proper authorities).  Stand Your Ground now allows someone carrying a firearm (and an anger management problem the size of Mount Doom) to go first for their gun and open fire under a "reasonable" expectation of fearing for their life, even when there are clear alternatives to blasting away in Vigilante Mode.

It's a bad law because it's basically a license for an aggressive, angry gunowner to go after someone and shoot that other person dead.  And then that gunowner can turn around and claim self-defense because he "feared for his own safety."  Regardless of whether or not the victim was genuinely a threat.  And sadly enough, the victim was never that big a threat.

Look at Dunn's testimony.  He's the one with the gun, getting off 10 shots and killing Davis in the process.  Dunn claims he "saw" Davis with a shotgun but the police found no evidence there was any weapon in the car at all.  Yet we're supposed to trust Dunn's testimony because he's the one sitting in the courtroom booth.  Meanwhile, we'll never hear Davis' side of the matter because Davis is dead, much like Trayvon Martin is dead and we'll never really know what happened the night George Zimmerman shot him dead.

Because we can't trust a word of what Dunn or Zimmerman claim, because it's in their own interests to make themselves look the victim.  And because they've got SYG giving them clearance to admit they "feared" for their own safety regardless of the situation.  Especially when - in both Dunn and Zimmerman's cases - the shooters were the ones who escalated in their own anger those situations into shooting deaths.

Are we going to trust the word of the 71-year-old who shot a man texting his babysitter (checking on a child at home) while at the Wesley Chapel movie theater that he was afraid for his life?  Under normal circumstances, the 71-year-old or anyone else upset that a cell phone was in use during the start of the movie would have gone to an usher or theater manager to complain (I did that once.  Guess what?  IT WORKED).  Under SYG, the 71-year-old stood there, let a box of popcorn get thrown in his face, and pull out his concealed gun to shoot dead the person who angered him.

He was threatened with popcorn.  The guy with the gun was threatened with popcorn, and shot the guy who threw it at him.  And now the 71-year-old packing heat gets to go before a jury to explain how he feared for his safety because popcorn was in his face.

Meanwhile the ones with actual bullets in them - Martin, Davis, a 43-year-old man with a fatherless child waiting at home - lie there dead, and what law speaks for them when Stand Your Ground trumps logic?  When it trumps common sense?

The law needs to go.  The courts need to rule it unconstitutional because it violates the victims' - usually unarmed - rights to due process (a presumption of innocence).  They need to overturn SYG because it's become a form of legalized lynching where angry white guys are shooting blacks over questionable slights (Trayvon Martin had every right to walk through his father's own neighborhood, for God's sake).  The legislatures need to stop passing these laws that violate public safety at the expense of a gun lobby that wants to conceal-carry wherever they want and pretty much shoot anybody they (don't) like.

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