Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stand Your Ground

By Dave Dargo

Thirty-one states are, apparently, wrong according to Attorney General Eric Holder. Of course, this isn't the first time Mr. Holder has found himself in disagreement with a majority of the state legislatures and governors.

Thirty-one states have "stand your ground" laws. These laws exist because of the attacks made against self-defense laws by people who share many of Mr. Holder's beliefs.

Self-defense laws have been around for a very long time and basically state that a person has the right to use force to defend themselves against like force. If someone attacks me in such a way that I fear imminent death or serious bodily injury then I am justified in using force to stop that attack. If the force I use to stop such an attack results in the death of my attacker then I will not be held accountable.

A core component of the right of self-defense is that my actions have to be tied to stopping the attack. If the attack has already ceased and is unlikely to resume then I can't use force against my attacker. I don't actually have to be attacked in order to use force; I simply have to have a reasonable fear that I will be attacked and the attack will result in grave physical injury or death.

The components that go into self-defense often include the concepts of an attacker having the means, opportunity and intent of doing me harm.  Some examples may help illustrate this issue:

  • A person at the other end of a football field yells to me, "I have a knife and I'm going to come over there and stab you." Well, he may have the intent (as he stated), he may have the means (a knife) but he probably doesn't have the opportunity - he's going to have to run 100 yards to get to me. I'm probably not justified in pulling out my rifle and shooting him.
  • A person sitting across a table says to me, "I'm going to throw these feathers at you until you die." Again, I'm not going to be justified in shooting that individual to stop the attack.
  • A person is 20 feet away from me and produces a knife yelling at me to give him all my money. This person has the means, the intent and the opportunity. I'm probably justified in using deadly force to stop him.
At some point in the not-to-distant past, some people were prosecuted for murder in clear self-defense situations because the prosecutor argued that the person under attack may have had the opportunity to retreat and, therefore, remove the immediacy of the opportunity of the person attacking them. Some prosecutors actually argued that a person should run out of their own home in order to defuse a situation.

This didn't sit right with many people and it's easy to understand why; after all, if someone attacks me and I have a right to self-defense then why should I have to look for an escape before I can deploy physical force to protect myself. In reality, the time taken to look for an escape and the very act of escaping can introduce their own dangers into the situation. Nevertheless, over-eager prosecutors sought the conviction of otherwise law-abiding citizens who simply wanted to defend themselves, their families or even perfect strangers.

In order to stop the over-zealous prosecutors, states began introducing "stand your ground" and "castle doctrine" laws. These laws basically state that if you are under attack then you have no duty to attempt to retreat before using physical force in defense of yourself. Stand your ground laws generally refer to standing your ground in public and castle doctrine laws generally refer to what happens on your own property.

The media's biased reports continue to bash Florida's stand your ground law because of the Zimmerman trial - even though Mr. Zimmerman waived his rights under Florida's stand your ground law.  Mr. Zimmerman never claimed a stand your ground right and defended himself under the traditional self defense laws.

That hasn't stopped Attorney General Holder from pandering to the NAACP and declaring in a speech today, "Separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation's attention, it's time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods."

Such a statement shows either an ignorance of stand your ground laws or a profound cynicism and bias that would allow him to bend the facts to meet the political demands of a constituency rather than serving to bring justice to all Americans.

The elimination of stand-your-ground laws would give an advantage to criminals and those who prey on the innocent. In Holder's world, you will be required to attempt an escape before using force to defend yourself. Worse, in Holder's world, you will need to prove that you couldn't escape, otherwise you will be responsible for whatever happened to your attacker when you defended yourself.

Stand your ground laws exist because of the hyper zealousness of prosecutors. They are a reaction to the political machinations of people like Mr. Holder and serve a legitimate purpose of protecting the rights of innocent, law-abiding citizens who choose to defend themselves and their families.

This is precisely the time and place where we need to collectively stand our ground and prevent Mr. Holder's attempt to interfere with our fundamental right to self-defense.

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