Trayvon Martin has now been dead for over a month. We know that George Zimmerman shot the 17-year-old to death, but no arrest has been made.
That’s because of so-called “Stand Your Ground” legislation, state laws assuring an expansive right to self-defense. Since “Stand Your Ground” laws allow people who feel threatened to use deadly force—even if they have an opportunity, as Zimmerman did, to safely avoid a confrontation—Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged. The law allows use of deadly force by someone who simply feels threatened by another, even when confrontation is avoidable. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense even though Martin was unarmed.
Deadly Force Justified Inside Or Outside The Home
What is Florida’s definition of self-defense? In 2005, Florida became the first state to explicitly expand a person’s right to use deadly force for self-defense. Deadly force is justified if a person is gravely threatened, in the home or “any other place where he or she has a right to be.”
Most states have long allowed the use of reasonable force, sometimes including deadly force, to protect oneself inside one’s home — the so-called Castle Doctrine. Outside the home, people generally still have a “duty to retreat” from an attacker, if possible, to avoid confrontation. In other words, if you can get away and you shoot anyway, you can be prosecuted. In Florida, there is no duty to retreat. You can “stand your ground” outside your home, too.
“Justifiable Homicides” Have Skyrocketed In Florida Since The Advent Of “Stand Your Ground”
Prosecutors hate “Stand Your Ground” laws because they make it much harder to successfully prosecute people who claim self-defense. In Florida, a defendant doesn’t have to actually prove he acted in self-defense; instead, the prosecution has to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that he didn’t do so. In fact, the Florida law asks the police to make a factual determination in the moment, before a case even reaches a court. Generally these determinations are made by the courts.
The upshot? In 2010, the Tampa Bay Times reported that “justifiable homicides”—i.e., killings that were deemed legitimate—have skyrocketed in Florida over several years since the “Stand Your Ground” law went into effect.
Or, put another way:
“Stand Your Ground is a law that has really created a Wild West type environment in Florida,” said Brian Tannebaum, a criminal defense lawyer in Florida, told The New York Times. “It allows people to kill people outside of their homes, if they are in reasonable fear for their lives. It’s a very low standard.”
25 States Allow People To “Stand Their Ground”
Now, tragically, it appears that rather than use this as a learning experience, the National Rifle Association is pushing all 50 states to adopt these so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws.
From Mother Jones:
The National Rifle Association continues to press more states to adopt Florida-style “stand your ground” laws like the one that’s made it difficult to prosecute George Zimmerman.
The proliferation of these laws is part of a deliberate lobbying campaign by the NRA. In 2005, at the NRA’s urging, Florida became the first state to pass a “stand your ground” law. Before that, most states required you to retreat from a confrontation unless you were inside your own home. Now 25 states have these “stand your ground” laws, which critics call “shoot first” laws (Gawker’s pseudonymous blogger ”Mobuto Sese Seko” calls the laws “a great, legally roving murder bubble”) because they authorize citizens to use deadly force even if the person who makes them feel threatened is, like Martin, unarmed.
Click here for a map of the current situation across the U.S.
25 states have already adopted such laws despite their demonstrated danger. If you believe this is outrageous, please sign our petition telling all states to reject all “Stand Your Ground” laws before even more people are murdered for presenting imaginary threats.
Photo Credit: Jonathon Gibby