Stand Your Ground laws are on the books in many Red States and in some Blue states too, where guns and the NRA are popular. These so-called “self-defense” laws permit armed and presumably unarmed citizens the right to use deadly force in the event they feel in danger and in the case of Florida, also if they feel the lives of others are in danger. But what does Stand Your Ground really mean?
Stand Your Ground as I understand the phrase means Don’t Back Down. It doesn’t mean take out a semi-automatic and fire away. Nor does it mean go patrol the neighborhood looking for trouble, which is apparently what George Zimmerman was doing as a self-appointed neighborhood watch “captain” the night he pursued, after being told by police not to, shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a black youth walking home from a convenience store with a pack of Skittles. The police determined that they could not arrest Zimmerman based on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
The murder of Trayvon Martin has raised many questions about Stand Your Ground Laws, including evidence that they have produced an increase in violence and fatalities, and have promoted a dangerous vigilante mentality. As people become increasingly empowered to “protect” themselves and others, conditions are ripe for the type of racial profiling and racist attitudes that appear to have been motivational factors in Zimmerman’s actions.
With respect to homeowners, SYG laws encourage gun use in situations where the gun owner may not have the proper training to appropriately handle a dangerous situation, such that his actions could put him or her as the case may be, more at risk of injury or death, or cause a needless and preventable fatality.
I’m not against gun ownership, or the right to use force in self-defense. I am against citizens taking the law into their own hands. Without the powerful gun lobby with the full backing of the NRA, these laws may never have come to pass. Which raises the issue of why now? Has there been a rash of crime the likes the U.S. has never seen? Are there criminals lurking around every corner and burglars burgling in every suburban basement. Might the passage of SYG laws have to do with a calculated GOP Tea Party strategy to instill fear in the citizenry, a fear that the President is secretly plotting to disarm Americans with some executive order? This is the sort of paranoid conspiracy theory that you might see at a Tea Party rally. It makes for good campaign rhetoric for the GOP who could argue (incorrectly I would add) that Democrats who favor gun control are against the right to bear arms. Even though I believe the second amendment only guarantees a well-regulated militia (like today’s police force, or the armed forces) the right to bear arms, I don’t have a problem with gun ownership for sport or a pistol for protection to be kept in the home, but DON’T think it’s a good idea for people to be walking around armed to the teeth as if living in the Wild West. Rather than Stand Your Ground laws, these are more like Take The Law Into Your Own Hands laws.
One way to peacefully stand your ground is to lock your doors, secure your valuables and install a security system. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. If you feel your life is in danger, call 911, find a safe area or escape. Standing your ground with gun in hand invites confrontation that can have no good ending. And for the deeply religious folk who insist there is some biblical right to own a automatic assault rifle, I could only find in the bible “do not commit murder” and “judge not, lest ye be judged”. Let the criminal justice system do the judging, not the semi-automatic pistol.