Floridians back “Stand Your Ground” law

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin’s death, many on the Left have been blaming Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, a statue passed last year that allows use for the use of deadly force in self-defense (my home state of Georgia passed a similar law a few years ago). They say that the law empowered George Zimmerman to target Martin and claim self-defense.

While I have no opinion on Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence in the case at this point — I believe too little is known to jump to conclusions one way or the other, the ire over the “Stand Your Ground” law seems a little misplaced and, in some cases, dishonest. Dave Kopel, a Second Amendment scholar, explains:

The assertion that Florida law allows shooting whenever someone believes it to be necessary is a flat-out lie. The actual law of Florida is that “a person is justified in the use of deadly force” if “(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony” (Florida Statutes, Section 776.012).

The second part of the law provides special provisions for self-defense against violent home invaders or carjackers. Neither of those is relevant to the Zimmerman case.

If the factual claims of Trayvon’s supporters are true, Mr. Zimmerman criminally attacked Trayvon and killed him, while having no reasonable belief that Trayvon was perpetrating a forcible felony, or imminently about to kill or gravely wound Mr. Zimmerman. So Florida’s self-defense laws simply would not apply, since Mr. Zimmerman would have no right under Florida law to use deadly force.

Florida’s rule that deadly force may be used to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm” or “the imminent commission of a forcible felony” is the norm throughout the United States.
Like the majority of American states, Florida does not mandate that victims of a violent crime attempt to retreat before they defend themselves. The retreat rule is irrelevant, regardless of whether you believe Trayvon’s advocates or Mr. Zimmerman’s advocates.

According to one side, Mr. Zimmerman was the criminal aggressor. Thus, he would have no self-defense rights at all. According to the other side, Trayvon attacked Mr. Zimmerman, knocked him to the ground, got on top of him and continued the attack. So Mr. Zimmerman would have had no ability to retreat. Either way, the retreat rules for lawful defenders have nothing to do with this case.

Despite what the gun prohibition lobbies claim, the no-retreat rule has deep roots in traditional American law. At the Supreme Court, the rule dates back to the 1895 case of Beard v. United States, in which the great Justice John Harlan wrote for a unanimous court that the victim “was not obliged to retreat, nor to consider whether he could safely retreat, but was entitled to stand his ground, and meet any attack upon him with a deadly weapon, in such a way and with such force as, under all the circumstances, he, at the moment, honestly believed, and had reasonable grounds to believe, were necessary to save his own life, or to protect himself from great bodily injury.”

The great progressive Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes also expressed the unanimous opinion of the court “that if a man reasonably believes that he is in immediate danger of death or grievous bodily harm from his assailant he may stand his ground and that if he kills him he has not succeededthe bounds of lawful self-defense. … Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife” (Brown v. United States, 1921).

According to a survey released yesterday by Public Policy Policy — a Democratic polling firm used by the Daily Kos, Floridians are largely not buying the fuss over the law in the afterman of Martin’s death:

Floridians generally support the firearm self-defense law that George Zimmerman will use as part of his defense in the Trayvon Martin case, but they also support him being charged with second-degree murder because they think he is guilty.

42% of Florida voters support the “Stand Your Ground” law, and 32% oppose it.  Republicans overwhelmingly support it (60-13), and independents like it as well (45-31), but Democrats oppose it (24-50).

49% think Zimmerman was appropriately charged, while 25% think he was not.  The verdict is more narrow when it comes to his actual guilt of said charge—31% believe he is guilty, and 26% think him innocent.  Despite the hullabaloo, 46% believe Zimmerman will be able to receive a fair trial, and 37% think he cannot.

Floridians generally do not believe Zimmerman was motivated by racism when he killed Martin—only 32% think he was, and 45% think he wasn’t.

With recent developments in the case, we may never know what exactly happened in Sanford, Florida in late Feburary, but Martin’s death has, been politicized to the point of absurdity, taking away any real possibility of a fair trail for Zimmerman, something he should be entitled to whether a jury ultimately finds that he commited a crime or not.

It’s not surprising that the anti-gun lobby would launch an attack on “Stand Your Ground” laws. They would use just about any random act to do so, even though their ultimate goal of disarming the public would leave law-abiding Americans without a reasonable means to defend themsevles.

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