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“Standing Our Ground”: Stand Your Ground Laws Are Not Making Us Safer, They’re Making Us More Barbaric

This is not the time for evanescent anger, which is America’s wont.

This is not the time for a few marches that soon dissipate as we drift back into the fog of faineance — watching fake reality television as our actual realities become ever more grim, gawking at the sexting life of Carlos Danger as our own lives become more dangerous, fawning over royal British babies as our own children are gunned down.

This is yet another moment when America should take stock of where the power structures are leading us, how they play on our fears — fan our fears — to feed their fortunes.

On no subject is this more clear than on the subject of guns.

While it is proper and necessary to analyze the case in which George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin for what it says about profiling and police practices, it is possibly more important to analyze what it says about our increasingly vigilante-oriented gun culture.

The industry and its lobby have successfully pushed two fallacies: that the Second Amendment is under siege and so are law-abiding citizens.

They endlessly preach that more guns make us safer and any attempt at regulation is an injury to freedom. And while the rest of us have arguments about Constitutional intent and gun-use statistics, the streets run red with the blood of the slain, and the gun industry laughs all the way to the bank.

Gun sales have surged. And our laws are quickly being adjusted to allow people to carry those guns everywhere they go and to give legal cover to use lethal force when nonlethal options are available.

This is our America in a most frightful time.

When Illinois — which has experienced extraordinary carnage in its largest city — enacted legislation this month allowing the concealed carrying of firearms, it lost its place as the lone holdout. Now “concealed carry” is the law in all 50 states.

And as The Wall Street Journal reported this month, “concealed carry” permit applications are also surging while restrictions are being loosened. Do we really need to have our guns with us in church, or at the bar? More states are answering that question in the affirmative.

And now that more people are walking around with weapons dangling from their bodies, states have moved to make the use of those guns more justifiable.

Florida passed the first Stand Your Ground law (or “shoot first” law, as some have called it) in 2005. It allows a person to use deadly force if he or she is afraid of being killed or seriously injured. In Florida, that right to kill even extends to an initial aggressor.

After Florida’s law, other states quickly followed with the help and support of the N.R.A. and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Ironically, the N.R.A. and other advocates pushed the laws in part as protection for women, those who were victims of domestic violence and those who might be victimized away from home.

The N.R.A.’s former president, Marion Hammer, argued in support of the bill in 2005 when she was an N.R.A. lobbyist: “You can’t expect a victim to wait and ask, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Criminal, are you going to rape me and kill me, or are you just going to beat me up and steal my television?’ ”

But, of course, the law is rarely used by women in those circumstances. The Tampa Bay Times looked at 235 cases in Florida, spanning 2005 to 2013, in which Stand Your Ground was invoked and found that only 33 of them were domestic disputes or arguments, and that in most of those cases men invoked the law, not women.

In fact, nearly as many people claimed Stand Your Ground in the “fight at bar/party” category as in domestic disputes.

And not only is the law rarely being invoked by battered women, it’s often invoked by hardened criminals. According to an article published last year by The Tampa Bay Times:

“All told, 119 people are known to have killed someone and invoked stand your ground. Those people have been arrested 327 times in incidents involving violence, property crimes, drugs, weapons or probation violations.”

And, as the paper pointed out, “more than a third of the defendants had previously been in trouble for threatening someone with a gun or illegally carrying a weapon.”

In fact, after Marissa Alexander, a battered Jacksonville wife, fired a warning shot at her abusive husband (to make him get out of the house, she said), her Stand Your Ground motion was denied. She is now facing a 20-year sentence.

Something is wrong here. We are not being made more secure, we are being made more barbaric. These laws are an abomination and an affront to morality and common sense. We can’t allow ourselves to be pawns in the gun industry’s profiteering. We are real people, and people have power.

Attorney General Eric Holder told the N.A.A.C.P. last week: “It’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods. These laws try to fix something that was never broken.”

We must all stress this point, and fight and not get weary. We must stop thinking of politics as sport and spectacle and remember that it bends in response to pressure. These laws must be reviewed and adjusted. On this issue we, as Americans of good conscience, must stand our ground.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 24, 2013

July 26, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Enemies Of The State”: How Do We Prevent The Death Of The Next Trayvon Martin?

Say what you will about the jury’s decision to acquit George Zimmerman, the fact remains that Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, 17-year-old teenager, is dead. He was doing what many teen boys do every day — buying candy from a 7-Eleven — before he was shot by a 28-year-old adult in a gated community.

Martin is not the first unarmed young black man to be shot dead, and, sadly, he almost certainly won’t be the last. The Zimmerman trial coincided with the release of Fruitvale Station, a film based on the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old who was hand-cuffed, face-down, when an Oakland transit agency police officer pulled out his gun and killed him.

Zimmerman will serve no jail time, and could even get the handgun he used in the shooting back from authorities. Johannes Mehserle, the officer who shot Grant, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, served 11 months in prison, and is out on parole.

In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, President Obama released a statement saying, “We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this.”

So how, exactly, can we do that?

Certainly, gun laws are a factor. Progressives have pointed to Florida’s expansive Stand Your Ground laws, which allow you to shoot somebody on public property if you reasonably feel at risk of death or bodily harm, a vague standard prosecutors have complained has made it harder to put armed perpetrators behind bars.

“Effectively, I can bait you into a fight and if I start losing I can can legally kill you, provided I ‘believe’ myself to be subject to ‘great bodily harm,'” writes The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates. “It is then the state’s job to prove — beyond a reasonable doubt — that I either did not actually fear for my life, or my fear was unreasonable.”

Proving that Zimmerman’s fear was unreasonable was difficult because the only other witness, Martin, was dead. Using fear of bodily harm as a legal justification for shooting someone is also tricky in a country where a certain portion of the population believes that young black men are dangerous.

“It is a complicated thing to be young, black, and male in America,” writes Gawker‘s Cord Jefferson, adding:

Not only are you well aware that many people are afraid of you — you can see them clutching their purses or stiffening in their subway seats when you sit across from them — you must also remain conscious of the fact that people expect you to be apologetic for their fear.

If you’re a black man and you don’t remain vigilant of and obsequious to white people’s panic in your presence …. then you must be prepared to be arrested, be beaten, be shot through the heart and lung and die on the way home to watch a basketball game with your family. [Gawker]

The simple, terrible truth is that while gun laws can be changed, people’s attitudes on race are a different matter. Clutching a purse tightly when a young black man enters the subway isn’t illegal, nor should it be. But the culture of fear it’s indicative of has very real consequences.

“As much as I have written and advocated for reducing the number of and access to guns, it wasn’t just the gun in Zimmerman’s hand that shot Trayvon,” writes The Nation‘s Mychal Denzel Smith. “It was a historic rendering of black men as enemies of the state, menaces to society, threats to the American way of life, that caused Trayvon to lose his life that day. How do you legislate against that?”

 

By: Keith Wagstaff, The Week, July 15, 2013

July 18, 2013 Posted by | Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“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

   

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