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Stand Your Ground Makes Sense

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The July 13, 2013, acquittal of George Zimmerman in the February 2012 self-defense shooting of Trayvon Martin has brought a flood of criticism against Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Despite the fact that this law was not a factor in the Zimmerman case, opponents are using the incident as a pretext to lobby for repeal of that statute. More than 20 states have some form of the law either through legislation or judicial interpretation of their state’s self-defense laws.

The Florida Stand Your Ground statute states: “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity … has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

Critics of the law call it an expansion of the right of self-defense (as if government can expand a God-given right). Supporters of Stand Your Ground consider it common sense. After all, where else would you defend yourself except where you are attacked? So why is a law stating the obvious necessary?

The reason is because in the recent past and to some extent today, people were not protected from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits in self-defense situations where they did not first seek to retreat from the attack. They had a duty, by law, to retreat, or attempt to do so before using force in the face of an attack, however impractical. A prosecutor and a jury would then second-guess the person to his detriment. Many an injustice resulted.

Opponents say Stand Your Ground encourages violence and deadly encounters. They presume, as in the Zimmerman-Martin case, that a defender will use a firearm. It’s not surprising that many of the critics are the usual gun-control advocates. Yet, the law covers all self-defense situations, with or without weapons of any kind. Gun-control advocates are using opposition to this law to advance their gun-control agenda. In doing so, they are leaving people who use other weapons vulnerable as well.

The law does not encourage violence and deadly encounters. The person exercising his right of self-defense is already the victim of violence, else why would he defend himself? His actions may, in fact, prevent deadly or great bodily harm to himself or others. Standing his ground may even discourage the assailant from continuing his attack, a benefit to both of them. The law does not discourage retreat. It merely removes the possibility of legal action for commonsense self-defense.

You cannot limit a person’s self-defense options without putting that person in physical and legal jeopardy. A victim of crime who successfully defends himself should not be second-guessed by people who were not there undergoing the same trauma. They shouldn’t have to endure the expense, inconvenience, and jeopardy to their liberty of legal proceedings simply for standing their ground while under attack.

Anyone who has served in combat knows that you are most vulnerable when retreating from an attacker. To force people to retreat before defending themselves is to place them at the mercy of their attacker, and makes successful self-defense less likely. Are victims of an attack expected to outrun their assailant, the bullet he fires at them, or the object he throws at them? Most criminals are not stupid. They pick on what they consider easy prey, those most vulnerable and least likely to resist successfully. How can such people be expected to retreat before defending themselves?

When violence is visited upon a person, it usually comes suddenly and without warning. A person has nanoseconds to respond. There is no time for mental gymnastics to weigh various legal options when one is fighting for his life or limb. In the Old West gunfights, it wasn’t the fastest draw which usually won, but the person who didn’t hesitate to shoot to kill. Professional gun fighters and criminals didn’t hesitate. Their victims often did because a normal person is naturally reluctant to harm another, and doesn’t want to resort to violence unless absolutely necessary. This hesitation has cost many an innocent person their life. To make hesitation mandatory by forcing a person to first retreat is itself criminal.

If you have a right to be somewhere, you have a right to defend yourself there. Stand Your Ground laws are simply common sense, but are made necessary by the stupidity of some and the gun-control agenda of others.

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    Benedict LaRosa is a historian and writer with undergraduate and graduate degrees in history from the U.S. Air Force Academy and Duke University, respectively.