In the wake of the controversy surrounding the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in February, Florida’s “stand your ground” law has come under sharp scrutiny. As Red Alert Politics reported recently, the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC) was so successfully demonized by the Left for its support of “stand your ground” that it was forced to abandon its advocacy for the law altogether.
Three important facts seem to have gotten lost in the politics of the situation:
- Almost all 50 states have some form of a “stand your ground” rule
The “Castle Doctrine,” which states that a person may use reasonable force, including deadly force, in their home without a duty to retreat, has been recognized by United States courts as far back as 1895. For the past several decades, state legislatures have simply been codifying the common-law rules that already existed.
“Stand your ground” laws merely extended the Castle Doctrine to other identified places outside of one’s home. About half of the states have adopted some form of a “stand your ground” law, including Florida in 2005.
It seems odd that the Left would demonize supporters of a law that had already existed in some form or another for well over a century.
- Florida’s law DOES NOT prevent George Zimmerman from being arrested or prosecuted
Florida law states: “A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force… but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.”
In other words, police may not arrest a person who defends themselves under the “stand your ground” law UNLESS they have probable cause to believe that the person didn’t actually act in justified self-defense. That sounds reasonable enough. The fact that defenders aren’t required to sit in jail while police conduct their investigation shouldn’t be controversial either.
If Florida prosecutors can prove that Zimmerman acted unreasonably or that he was the true aggressor, he can still be found guilty of homicide regardless of the “stand your ground” law.
- Trayvon Martin’s death WAS NOT caused by Florida’s “Stand your Ground” law
I’m unaware of any evidence that has surfaced suggesting that George Zimmerman’s actions were in anyway influenced by his knowledge of Florida’s self-defense law, but that’s beside the point.
Practically speaking, “stand your ground” laws don’t dramatically alter the standard rules of self-defense. Even under Florida’s law, a person may not use deadly force in self-defense unless he or she “reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm.” In situations where a defender honestly and reasonably believes that lethal force is needed to fend off an imminent attack, retreat will almost never be a safe or viable option.
In any case, no state in America requires you to risk your own life retreating from an attacker, so in that respect, it’s legal to “stand your ground” anywhere in the country.
The cynical and sensationalistic media coverage of this case is driven by activist commentators seeking to control the narrative of events. But you can maintain an objective perspective if you keep these three facts in mind.