Trayvon Martin and Stand Your Ground: Self defense or a license to kill?

Look no further than the NRA for the roots of this law. Photo: Trayvon Martin's final resting place AP

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2012 — The tragic death of Trayvon Martin has stirred the passions of the country, provoking protests in Sanford, Florida, words of outrage from the three GOP candidates, and the language of grief and solace from the President (see video below). 

And it provoked some ridiculous remarks by pundits who should know better such as Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera’s warning to young men not to wear hoodies, saying “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” Or MSNBC’s Karen Finney linking the shooting back to “racist remarks” by Rush Limbaugh. Can someone turn the rhetoric down so there can be a real discussion of the issue at hand?

Yes, we are all rocked by the anger, despair, and shock that the 17-year-old’s death has unleashed, asking ourselves: 

How Could This Happen?

How is it even possible to pull the trigger of a 9mm Kel Tec, killing someone who was armed only with an ice tea and a packet of Skittles? 

How is being young, male, and black in 2012 still seen as a threat?

Questions all worth answers.

However, there is a bigger question out here, one that cannot be ignored: how did the Stand Your Ground law ever pass the Florida state legislature, allowing this perversion of justice to happen? Just as you are shaking your head at that one, you find out that it is the same law that 21 states have on their books.

It is the same law that gives people the authority to use deadly force if they perceive they are under a threat. Self-defense against force has always been part of law, written or unwritten. The Castle doctrine, which derives from English common law that “my home is my castle,” became codified into law in most places in America, meaning if you invade my home I can protect myself and my property in anyway I see fit, even with force if necessary.

Then came the Stand Your Ground law, which basically says a person may use deadly force when “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.” So if you, no matter where you may be at the time, believe you or even someone else is in danger, you may use lethal force if necessary. 

9mm Kel Tec

Such a law goes beyond a neighborhood watch, even beyond vigilantism. It is a license to kill. So who or what’s to blame? The legislators? The politicians? Right Wing rhetoric? Paranoia?

NRA Stands Behind the Law

Look no further than the NRA (National Rifle Association). It is the reason Florida passed the law. It lobbied hard for it and when it was passed in 2005, its chief lobbyist stood right next to Governor Jeb Bush as he signed it into law. Using the Florida model, the NRA has been successfully pushing the same law in state after state from Alabama to West Virginia. 

Since the passage of the Stand Your Ground law, the number of so-called justifiable homicides has exploded in Florida, according to Democratic State Senator Oscar Braynon, who represents the Miami area where Trayvon Martin lived with his mother. Braynon points out that in 2005 before the law was passed there were 43 such cases of defensive force and in 2009 (last year that statistics are available) there were 105.

The FBI notes a similar increase nationally as more and more states enact Stand Your Ground laws. In 2010 (the last year of FBI stats) there were 278 such deaths, the most in 15 years.

Meanwhile, gun-toting Americans are headed back to their gun dealers for more. First there have been the nervous gun aficionados who fear for America if President Obama gets another term. Then there are the gun enthusiasts who have been inspired to buy guns by  the latest tragedy in Florida. Try sorting out that logic.

A Run On Guns

Gunmaker Sturm, Ruger & Co. said it had to “temporarily suspend its acceptance of any new firearms orders due to a barrage of wholesale orders.”  It does not expect to be shipping out any further orders till May.

Some Florida lawmakers want to take another look at their law now that it has erupted into headlines. Governor Rick Scott said that he has appointed an outside state attorney to investigate the death of Trayvon Martin and he has created a task force to review the controversial Stand Your Ground law that George Zimmerman, the shooter, is using to claim legal immunity. Even if it is too little, too late for young Martin, at least the governor now understands the seriousness of what happened and the consequences of a dangerous law.

But what about those other states or those with legislation working its way through their statehouses? Will they rethink what they wrought? Or will the NRA twist their arms by contributing or not contributing to their campaigns, and then instigate a media blitz in those states trying to convince more people that only guns can make them safe.

Unless, of course, the gun is pointed at you.

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in HYPERLINK “http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/ad-lib/”Ad Lib in the Communities at the Washington Times. She can also be heard on the HYPERLINK “http://www.americasdemocrats.org/”Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.

 

Read more about this tragedy:

Trayvon Martin: Between life and death, a hoodie and a sweat shirt

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, round two: Unanswered questions (Video)

Exposing racism on the House floor; Rep. Bobby Rush should apologize

Hoodie on the House floor: an outrage or a legitimate protest? (Video)

Hunger Games in Florida: Fear made Trayvon Martin’s death a certainty

Miami Heat tweet support for Trayvon Martin (Hoodies Up video)

 



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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe

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