“In 2004, a state senator in Illinois by the name of Barack Obama cosponsored an expansion of Illinois’ law providing civil immunity for those who use justifiable force to defend themselves,” Ted Cruz told a Senate hearing room Tuesday.
“So the notion that ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws are some form of veiled racism may be a convenient political attack, but it is not borne out by the facts remotely.”
Cruz was correct. Before the Trayvon Martin shooting – and Martin’s mother was sitting on the panel Cruz addressed – there was little controversy about the law.
In 2005, a Stand Your Ground statute passed the Florida House by a vote of 94-20 and the Senate by a vote of 39-0. The law passed handily for good reason.
While a resident has always had the right to defend himself in his own home – the so-called “Castle Doctrine” – the 2005 legislation expanded that right to any place where he (or she) was lawfully allowed to go.
Before these laws were passed in Florida and elsewhere, victims were expected to retreat in the face of a serious threat. These statutes use a “reasonable person” standard to determine when and how a potential victim can respond to a serious threat. Florida law reads as follows:
“A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be 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.”
Within weeks of Martin’s shooting, however, liberal pundits were routinely referring to the Florida law as “shoot first, ask questions later.”
In its first article on the subject of Martin’s death, the New York Times was already editorializing against the law. “Stand Your Ground is a law that has really created a Wild West type environment in Florida,” criminal defense lawyer Brian Tannebaum was quoted as saying. “It allows people to kill people outside of their homes, if they are in reasonable fear for their lives. It’s a very low standard.”
A few days later the Huffington Post repeated the quote but removed Tannebaum’s caveat, “if they are in reasonable fear for their lives.” For the media, certainly the left flank thereof, fearing for one’s life was of little matter.
John Lott, the nation’s foremost gun law researcher, described the media discussion of the Stand Your Ground laws as “totally irresponsible caricature.”
Lott explained that the laws do not protect individuals who provoke an attack, use unnecessary force, or shoot a fleeing criminal in the back. Moreover, judges and jurors are the ones entrusted with determining what it was “necessary to do” to save one’s life from a serious threat.
As Lott also pointed out early in the Zimmerman investigation, “whether Zimmerman acted in self-defense with Trayvon on top of him and no place to retreat – or whether, in the other version of events, Zimmerman initiated the attack – the Stand Your Ground law isn’t relevant.”
If Zimmerman’s account were accurate, he did not need the protection of Stand Your Ground. The existing self-defense statutes in Florida or any other state would have sufficed.
If the account of the Martin family attorneys were true, no juror would find the behavior of an armed stalker who outweighed his child prey by a hundred pounds “reasonable.”
The Zimmerman attorneys agreed with Lott. “George did not have an ability to retreat because he was on the ground with Trayvon Martin mounting him, striking blows,” they wrote on Zimmerman’s legal website, “therefore the ‘Stand Your Ground’ ‘benefit’ given by the statute simply does not apply to the facts of George’s case: it is traditional self-defense.”
The point should have been moot from the beginning, but it was not. Florida was, after all, a battleground state in a presidential election year. As was well understood by the political operatives, the trial would come some time after the November election.
They did not need to convict Zimmerman in court. They merely needed to hammer this gun rights “poster child” in the court of the public opinion at least through November. Zimmerman, the individual, was irrelevant. Zimmerman, as symbol, was irresistible. Consider the following headlines, all in the first two months after the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting:
“Meet George Zimmerman: He Is the NRA,” Democratic Underground, March 22; Democrats for Progress, March 24.
“What the NRA’s ‘Founder’ and George Zimmerman Have in Common,” Huffington Post, March 29.
“Shame on the NRA and its newest poster child, George Zimmerman,” New York Daily News, April 13.
“Brady Campaign President: NRA Put ‘the Gun in George Zimmerman’s Hands,’” CNS, April 16.
The media and the Democrats won’t let this issue die. They simply rewrite history to support their contentions.
“The hearing stemmed from the 2012 shooting of Martin, the Florida teenager shot to death while walking back from the convenience store after being confronted by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman,” wrote Philip Bump of the Atlantic Wire in a veiled attack on Cruz.
“That case prompted new consideration of the type of self-defense law that, at first, allowed Zimmerman to go free without criminal charges.”
No, Mr. Bump, Zimmerman did not confront Martin. Martin was not walking back from the store. And Stand Your Ground did not factor into Zimmerman’s initial release.
Martin circled back and attacked Zimmerman, pounded away on him MMA-style, and refused to stop even after a neighbor stepped out and tried to warn him off.
Until, we can talk honestly about the facts of the Zimmerman case, there is no point in talking about Stand Your Ground.