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Stand Your Ground Law Has Overstayed Its Welcome

Sara Newman |
July 23, 2013 | 12:07 p.m. PDT


Protests have erupted in Washington, D.C. (LaDawna Howard, Creative Commons)
Protests have erupted in Washington, D.C. (LaDawna Howard, Creative Commons)
The very name, “Stand Your Ground,” calls to mind images of the Wild West and rowdy outlaws, not reasonable twenty-first century American citizens. 

As a nation, we pride ourselves on being smart, reasonable and judicious. Our very declaration proclaims the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all people. And yet, in 2013, laws remain that endanger these so-called “inalienable rights.” The Stand Your Ground Law allows people to assert their own dominance even when human lives are at stake. 

The Florida Statute proclaims that a person who is attacked “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.” Rather than emphasizing common sense or even self-preservation, this law allows aggression to govern people’s actions, pride to justify death. 

Since the National Rifle Association (NRA) helped implement the Florida law in 2005, the powerful pro-gun organization has attempted to create similar laws throughout the country as part of its effort to expand gun-carrying rights under the Second Amendment. They have succeeded in 24 states that have adopted similar laws expanding the definition of what constitutes self-defense. 

The effects of such violent laws cannot be ignored. 

A study by Texas A&M University shows that homicides have increased by seven to nine percent in states that passed Stand Your Ground Laws, compared to states that have not. Yet, even in our highly-developed, educated nation it has taken the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, to draw national attention to the harm that this law has inflicted upon society. Even if the Stand Your Ground Law was not used in Zimmerman’s defense, the heart-rending incident has brought the problematic law into question by millions of citizens and has created the impetus for change. 

According to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, reports of justifiable homicides have tripled since the law went into effect seven years ago—jumping from 12 to 36 “justifiable” killings by citizens each year. The full effect of this law cannot be wholly expressed in the number of deaths because the harm extends beyond the number of lives cut short—it includes the psychological impact on the nation’s youth. 

This law teaches children to use violence rather than words to resolve their issues. It teaches them that fighting is okay, as long as someone else throws the first punch. "This bill actually encourages people to shoot their way out of situations and that's not how we live in a civilized society," said Florida Senate Democratic leader Chris Smith in a news conference. 

In an increasingly militarized world, we cannot afford to have children grow up thinking that the best way to deal with aggression is through more guns, more bombs and more dead bodies. We are a nation founded on the power of words and democracy. It is the power to compromise and negotiate that we should be emphasizing, not the tendency to turn to violence at the first signs of fear. We can do better; we must do better—if not for ourselves, then for our children and the future of our country. 

As Mufasa says to Simba in the Lion King, “I'm only brave when I have to be. Being brave doesn't mean you go looking for trouble.”

Somewhere along the way it looks as if notions of courage and bravery were convoluted, and there is no better time than now to reemphasize these values. Until 2005, laws encouraged people to judiciously retreat from violent situations whenever possible. Retreat is not an act of cowardice or weakness; it is a sign of prudence and respect for the value of a human life. 

Throughout the country, thousands of protestors have rallied for a reevaluation of the law. Currently, dozens of young demonstrators are occupying part of Republican Governor Rick Scott’s Tallahassee office, where they have been stationed since last Tuesday, demanding that Scott order the state's lawmakers back to work to toss out or modify the law. These young people recognize the dangerous implications that Stand Your Ground laws have for the future. It is time that we listen not to guns or to violence, but to logic. 

More guns plus more legal tolerance of violence leads to more deaths. The past is over. Trayvon Martin is dead. The best thing that we can do now is to not let his death have been in vain. Now is the time for lawmakers to act to prevent more lives from being taken by unnecessary violence. Stand Your Ground laws need to become a thing of the past. 


Reach Contributor Sara Newman here; follow her here



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