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“Making Us Less Safe”: Stand Your Ground Laws A Shaky Basis For Justice

The Trayvon Martin murder case will boil down to one claim known by mothers everywhere.

“He started it!”

Every parent with more than one child has heard that cry. When their little one points his or her finger accusingly at a sibling, claiming to have been provoked into the tussle or name-calling, a wise parent responds with, “Well, why did you react?”

George Zimmerman will be asked if he instigated the altercation that led to him shooting to death the unarmed Trayvon, for which Zimmerman now faces the charge of second-degree murder.

The basis of Zimmerman’s defense is that, fearing for his life, he believed he was justified to shoot and kill.

The jury, being chosen now, will decide.

Zimmerman waived his right for a hearing to exculpate himself under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, although his lawyer has suggested that he may attempt to invoke the law if he is found guilty in his impending trial.

These laws need to be better understood for their implications for a civil society. Since Florida became the first state to pass the so-called Stand Your Ground law in 2005, about 30 other states have followed suit with some form of these laws.

Most states have the Castle Doctrine, which allows people to use deadly force, without the expectation to retreat, when threatened in their own home.

What the Stand Your Ground laws do is broaden the right to kill without retreating, even when it is possible, to other places, such as a workplace or a car.

Prior to the spread of these new laws, people were expected to back down, to retreat, if possible. Shoot First, Stand Your Ground, Make My Day laws can make it legal to refuse to walk away.

More research is needed into the effects of these laws. However, the evidence available now should trouble anyone who thinks laws should make society safer, rather than promoting violence.

One point is made repeatedly by David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center: “Firearms are used far more often to frighten and intimidate than they are used in self-defense.”

People are confused about what constitutes self-defense. What many people term self-defense is really just the last act in an argument gone out of control, a situation that escalates until one or both parties reach for a gun.

In one study, verbatim accounts of people who claimed self-defense were sent to criminal court judges for review. The majority of time, the judges felt the shootings, as described by the shooter, were not legal uses of self defense. Most often, the cases were simply arguments that ended violently when one person used a gun. Many were avoidable.

The Harvard Center has ripped apart other studies that overestimate the number of instances in which people have justifiably used a gun in self-defense. Given a chance to paint themselves a victim/hero, shooters often do, no matter what the facts of their cases were. So when researches try to estimate what proportion of shootings are cases of self-defense, it’s problematic to say the least to base their figures on the shooters’ self-reported motives.

Hemenway has also noted that in interviews, about half of convicted felons who used a gun in their crimes claim they did so in self-defense.

Many of these instances probably aren’t all that different from the type of the knuckleheaded justifications for murder that we regularly hear on the evening news: the endless stories of one teenager claiming someone “disrespected” them with a sneer, an ugly comment. So they just had to shoot the person dead.

People readily recognize the ludicrous nature of the claim that violence was necessary, that someone “had it coming to them.” Yet Stand Your Ground laws by definition turn this lack of self-control and inability to manage disagreement into a legal right to use lethal force. It’s sanctioned murder.

Depending on how one of these laws is crafted, it can even take away the ability of police to file charges, and prosecutors can face higher burdens of proof.

The question that needs to be answered is if the proliferation of Stand Your Ground laws are influencing public behavior to the point of making us less safe.

If he were alive to answer, it would be good to get Trayvon Martin’s opinion.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, The National Memo, June 17, 2013

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wisconsin Assembly: Cameras Are Dangerous, Guns Still Allowed

Eighteen people were arrested Tuesday for using cameras in the Wisconsin Assembly gallery, including the editor of The Progressive magazine, Matt Rothschild.

Rothschild and others had gone to the capitol to protest a series of arrests in recent weeks of individuals who carried signs or took photos or video in defiance of an Assembly ban.

“We ought to have a right to take a picture,” Rothschild said.

Guns Yes, Cameras No

The protest was organized through a Facebook event called “Concealed  Camera Day at the Capitol!” The event coincided with the implementation of Wisconsin’s new concealed carry law, which allows residents to carry a concealed firearm — including inside the Assembly gallery.

Stephen Colbert said Governor Walker was bringing “a new freedom to America’s dairyland” with the concealed carry law, but said people would not see “images of gunfire in the statehouse” because of the camera ban. “Thank God. Cameras are dangerous,” he said.

On the agenda in Tuesday’s session was a bill to institute the Castle Doctrine, a “shoot first, ask questions later” bill that gives a person immunity from civil and criminal liability if they shoot another in self defense in their home, work, or vehicle. The American Legislative Exchange Council also has a model Castle Doctrine bill — see the side-by-side here.

Event organizers were clear that the protests were not about the gun laws, but instead about protecting First Amendment rights.

But Is It Legal?

The Open Meetings law includes this provision (§19.90):

Use of equipment in open session. Whenever a governmental body holds a meeting in open session, the body shall make a reasonable effort to accommodate any person desiring to record, film or photograph the meeting. This section does not permit recording, filming or photographing such a meeting in a manner that interferes with the conduct of the meeting or the rights of the participants.

The statute also contains this provision (§ 19.87(2)):

No provision of this subchapter which conflicts with a rule of the senate or assembly or joint rule of the legislature shall apply to a meeting conducted in compliance with such rule.

The legal issue here appears similar to the one that arose in the challenge to Governor Walker’s collective bargaining law. In that case, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne alleged that the union-busting law should be struck down because it was passed in violation of another provision of the Open Meetings law requiring notice. In part, Ozanne’s challenge failed because the legislature had passed a rule that trumped the Open Meetings law.

Likewise, here the Assembly had a rule banning cameras and video, but under the court’s ruling in the Ozanne suit, that rule trumped the Open Meetings law permitting their use.

Despite this, both the Wisconsin and U.S. Constitutions have provisions protecting the right to free speech, free assembly, and a free press. “The gallery is a free speech area,” says attorney Jim Mueller, who was ticketed in October for violating the Assembly rule. “Even if there are rules against signs, they’re unconstitutional. It is our right to peaceably assemble and petition the government.”

By: Brendan Fischer, Center for Media and Democracy, November 2, 2011

November 4, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Freedom, Wisconsin | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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