The Trayvon Martin murder case will boil down to one claim known by mothers everywhere.
“He started it!”
Every parent with more than one child has heard that cry. When their little one points his or her finger accusingly at a sibling, claiming to have been provoked into the tussle or name-calling, a wise parent responds with, “Well, why did you react?”
George Zimmerman will be asked if he instigated the altercation that led to him shooting to death the unarmed Trayvon, for which Zimmerman now faces the charge of second-degree murder.
The basis of Zimmerman’s defense is that, fearing for his life, he believed he was justified to shoot and kill.
The jury, being chosen now, will decide.
Zimmerman waived his right for a hearing to exculpate himself under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, although his lawyer has suggested that he may attempt to invoke the law if he is found guilty in his impending trial.
These laws need to be better understood for their implications for a civil society. Since Florida became the first state to pass the so-called Stand Your Ground law in 2005, about 30 other states have followed suit with some form of these laws.
Most states have the Castle Doctrine, which allows people to use deadly force, without the expectation to retreat, when threatened in their own home.
What the Stand Your Ground laws do is broaden the right to kill without retreating, even when it is possible, to other places, such as a workplace or a car.
Prior to the spread of these new laws, people were expected to back down, to retreat, if possible. Shoot First, Stand Your Ground, Make My Day laws can make it legal to refuse to walk away.
More research is needed into the effects of these laws. However, the evidence available now should trouble anyone who thinks laws should make society safer, rather than promoting violence.
One point is made repeatedly by David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center: “Firearms are used far more often to frighten and intimidate than they are used in self-defense.”
People are confused about what constitutes self-defense. What many people term self-defense is really just the last act in an argument gone out of control, a situation that escalates until one or both parties reach for a gun.
Copyright 2013 The National Memo