Editorial in the Las Cruces Sun-News entitled, "WERE STAND-YOUR-GROUND LAWS A FACTOR IN THE ZIMMERMAN CASE?"

August 29, 2013

Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once said, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder tried to follow this advice by criticizing Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict. But, was this law a factor in the case?

As I pointed out in my last two articles, the evidence overwhelmingly supports the innocence of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin. Not only is George innocent of murder and manslaughter, he also had no racial intent. In fact, the prosecution did not even mention racism in court. Interestingly, Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law was also never mentioned in court because, like racism, there was no basis for it.

Stand-Your-Ground laws give individual’s the right of self-defense without a requirement to evade or retreat from a dangerous situation. The purpose is to put the responsibility of fault on the attacker; rather than bring criminal and/or civil charges against the innocent victim.

Different versions of the law have their distinction in where the concept applies. For example, 46 states have adopted the Castle Doctrine, which grants that a person has no duty to retreat when their home is attacked. Twenty-two states, such as Florida, go one step further and apply this to any place in which an innocent victim may legally be.

Let’s apply this law to George Zimmerman. According to an eye-witness account, Trayvon had George on his back in an “MMA-style” hold on the concrete while inflicting multiple blows to his head. And based on the testimony of a martial-arts expert, and his understanding of the physical traits of both Trayvon and George, it is doubtful that George instigated the encounter (plus, neither of them knew if the other had a gun or not). In other words, George Zimmerman did not have the ability to “retreat” from the situation. Therefore, Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law was not applicable since Zimmerman was in a purely self-defense situation.

So, why does the Attorney General demagogue this issue with the Zimmerman case? Well, politics is one obvious reason. But another may be the questionable effectiveness of Stand-Your-Ground laws. Studies are mixed. John Lott, author of the book ‘More Guns, Less Crime’, shows that states adopting Stand-Your-Ground laws reduced overall violent crime by 11%. And this occurs after taking into account a range of other factors such as crime trends, income and poverty, etc. On the other hand, a study at Texas A&M revealed an increase in the raw homicide rate (however, even this study admits a positive effect on the deterrence of crime).

While it seems you can find a study to suit your need on the subject, common sense suggests that would-be aggressors might think twice before attacking someone if they knew the victim might possibly defend themselves with lethal force. For example, every now and then I’ll encounter someone posing a threat to me while driving; however, I’m not foolish enough to retaliate for fear of what the other person may be carrying. Because of this typical life experience I tend to believe the studies that suggest Stand-Your-Ground laws provide a deterrent and reduce violence.

Having said all this, the underlying issue is self-defense. Some believe it is not a right, and only increases violence. But this is misguided. First, self-defense is a basic human right that is the foundation of our second amendment. But more than that, self-defense is God-given. Although the Bible commands us to “turn the other cheek”, this is meant for someone inflicting minor harm towards us such as a hateful comment. But if someone comes after me with a knife, the Bible gives me the right to defend myself (e.g. Exodus 22:2; interestingly, this passage involves the defense of one’s home, similar to the “Castle Doctrine” mentioned earlier).

Second, self-defense is a deterrent that actually mitigates the incentive to attack. This not only applies on an individual level, but also a societal level. Consider the military; some believe its job is to simply kill people. But this is not true, any more than it is for the police. The military’s primary objective is deterrence. Being the biggest and strongest dude on the block is what keeps us safe. But when necessary, our armed forces can defend our nation with lethal force. By the way, the concept of self-defense is the reason why our military is called the “National Defense” vice “National Offense.”

Conversely, you need only to look at President Obama’s policy in Syria and their use of chemical weapons to see what a lack of deterrence accomplishes. Lastly, critics say Stand-Your-Ground laws give people the excuse to murder and then simply claim self-defense. But this problem is inherent in basic self-defense laws as well.

Defending that which is precious to us is not only our right, but our moral responsibility. Tragically, the most recent example of this is our kids in school. By playing less politics and getting serious about defending our kids where they are most vulnerable; we would not only deter violence, but also save many precious lives.

Neal Hooks