There’s an episode of the animated TV show South Park in which some hunters have invented a clever way of skirting laws intended to limit the hunting of endangered animals or out-of-season game. Before each shot they merely yell: “Look out, Ned, it’s coming right for us!” They then proceed to shoot the frozen or retreating animal where it stands. By yelling “it’s coming right for us!” they can claim the kill as self-defense rather than hunting, thereby skirting the law. This allows them to walk around shooting whatever animals they’d like with complete impunity.
The concept is hilarious and funny when depicted on an animated cartoon show. It’s not so funny when states pass laws that allow gun owners to do the same exact same thing when it comes to their fellow human beings. Unfortunately, this IS THE EXACT SAME PREMISE that Stand Your Ground laws are built upon. These idiotic pieces of legislation, which were first pounded through the Florida legislature by the prolific gun lobbyist Marion Hammer, have since expanded to more than 24 states, at least 10 of which mirror the trigger happy language used in the Florida legislation. The statutes severely limit the ability of law enforcement to prosecute shooters who claim any degree of provocation, no matter how slight. They allow gun carriers to use lethal force as a first resort in a confrontation. Stand Your Ground can apply if the other person did anything to attack or threaten the killer, even in cases of a bar fight or workplace shooting. In other words, it allows things we would normally classify as murder to instead be counted as self-defense.
If you imagine that you see the other person in possession of a gun or a knife, or even a rock or menacing looking soda bottle for that matter, you can kill someone and get away with murder. It doesn’t matter whether or not they actually have any of these weapons; all that’s necessary to claim self-defense is that you think they might. If you feel you are at risk for injury or death, you can shoot someone and get away with murder. Arizona law even allows you to kill someone if you think they may be committing a crime or about to do so, regardless of whether you are right or wrong.
Stand Your Ground laws have given gun-toting citizens a loophole to murder those who irritate or insult them or stand in their way. So long as you say, “Look out, Ned, he’s coming right for us!” before you murder someone, (or otherwise concoct a bogus self-defense story), you can get away with murder. Such laws take the process of defining murder out of the realm of facts and evidence, and instead make it all about the shooter’s subjective state of mind:
- If you reached in your pocket for your keys, did I think it could have been a gun?
- If someone pushed me, did I feel threatened with bodily harm?
- If a girl scout knocked on the door and was met with a hail of gunfire, how was I supposed to know she wasn’t planning a home invasion?
Evidence of actual harm or risk becomes irrelevant. If I shout at you and you feel threatened, it’s up to the courts to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you didn’t fear for your life. This is the bogus logic that George Zimmerman used to get away with the slaughter of an unarmed teen he had been stalking. He’s not the only one getting away with murder.
As John Cloud writes, “‘Stand your ground’ quickly became a favorite among defense lawyers representing gang members, spouse abusers and drunks, who could now claim that ordinary disputes in private residences or businesses – ‘any other place’ besides the home, according to ‘stand your ground’ – provided the right to ‘meet force with force.’ In 2004, the year before ‘stand your ground’ became law, Florida authorities deemed eight homicides justifiable. In 2010, 40 homicides were called justified.” (Cloud, 4-9-2012, p. 39) These laws have helped career criminals get away with murder.
As Paul Solotaroff writes, “Instantly, drug dealers were using the new law to stage shootouts in the streets. Feuding neighbors settled scores, and thugs with multiple busts on their criminal records, many for brandishing guns, were exempt from prosecution after blowing away the boyfriend of the ex they’d been harassing.” (Solotaroff, 2013, p. 62) “It’s been great for defense lawyers,” says Richard Rosenbaum, a Fort Lauderdale attorney. “It has helped a lot of people get off on self-defense that would have been guilty before 2005.” (Alcindor, Bello & Johnson, 2012)
Stand Your Ground laws even allow people to get away with predatory murders; all one has to do is kill their victim with no witnesses around and then claim self-defense. As Paul Solotaroff notes, “prosecutors sometimes have little choice but to accept the shooter’s story: the only other witness is in the morgue.” (Solotaroff, 2013, p. 62) Arthur Harhoe of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence puts it more bluntly: “You want to know how you can kill someone legally in Florida? Make sure you have no witnesses, hunt the person down and then say you feared for your life.” (Alcindor, Bello & Johnson, 2012) He adds that he’s got a dozen cases on his desk right now that are similar to the Trayvon Martin case. Ironically, such laws often offer strong incentives to shoot once your gun is drawn. Under Florida law, pointing a gun at someone has a mandatory minimum of 3 years in prison, whereas if you shoot them, you can easily go free under Stand Your Ground.
Police don’t even have the power to hold someone once they have any sort of evidence (including the shooter’s statement) that the shooter has been “attacked in any place where he or she has a right to be.” (Cloud, 4-9-2012) It also limits the ability of law enforcement to prosecute shooters who claim provocation, no matter how slight. One lawyer points out that “they actually teach (Stand Your Ground) to people when they take the carry-permit class. It’s your get-out-of-jail-free card. Use it.” (Solotaroff, 2013, p. 65) These laws have allowed trigger happy gun owners to kill people over and over again, shooting someone to death in a dispute, then committing another “justifiable homicide” 10 years later. (ibid) We’re creating legally sanctioned serial killers.
Why Stand Your Ground laws increase murder rates
Not surprisingly, a recent Texas A & M study found that by “lowering the expected costs associated with using lethal force” these laws “induce more of it,” and that this psychological effect results in an 8% increase in the number of murders and manslaughters that occur in the first place. (Dickinson, 2013A) As Mark Hoekstra, co-author of the 2012 study puts it, “We found that making it easier to kill people resulted in more dead people.” (Wenner-Moyer, 2017) Apparently, this fact is as confusing to the gun lobby as rocket science is for the rest of us.
In the 8 years since Stand Your Ground passed, “self-defense” killings have more than tripled in Florida. Some years they are more than 10-times what they used to be. And in yet another example that shreds the idea that communities are safer when “more law abiding citizens have guns,” homicides are also up in Stand Your Ground states. (Solotaroff, 2013) Florida saw a 25% increase in its homicide rate after passing Stand Your Ground, according to a 2017 study. (Wenner-Moyer, 2017, p.62)
The laws also seem to be applied in a racist way. Since the Stand Your Ground law’s enactment in Florida, 73% of the people who have used this defense after killing a black person have been set free, whereas those who killed a white person escaped verdict just 59% of the time. (Wickham, 12-4-2012) The same pattern likely holds true when it comes to whether people are actually charged in the first place.
Despite the blatant injustices these laws encourage, people like Dennis Baxley (R), the man who sponsored Florida’s get-away-with-murder law, continues to defend it. I’d like to see this monster conduct his next election campaign by running case studies of the murders his law has allowed and the killers it set free. Yet the gun lobby (or should we start calling them the murder lobby?) continues its expansion of such legislation. It seems that they want to regress America back into the Wild West; a place where people solve their disagreements with a shootout. In 2011 the state of Pennsylvania also decided that it wanted to pass murder-and-get-away-with-it laws, joining the other set of mentally-challenged states to pass “shoot first” legislation. Pennsylvania’s law would allow anyone to use deadly force in public places while affording them the same protections they have in defending their home. In many cases, it even protects them when they kill or injure innocent bystanders by mistake, a not uncommon scenario. (USA Today, 4-25-2011) Stand Your Ground will continue to endanger our communities and make a mockery of justice so long as we continue to let it.
* Disturbed by what you read? Trust me, it gets worse. Get our extended eBook, and find out the other, even more sinister motive behind such laws that the NRA doesn’t want you to know about. It’s just $2.99, and all author proceeds go towards helping children in need.