February 16, 2014
Ladd Everitt, (202) 701-7171,  leveritt@csgv.org  
Washington, DC—Yesterday, a Florida jury convicted Michael David Dunn on three counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of firing into an unoccupied vehicle. The jury was unable to reach a vedict on the most serious charge of first-degree murder, however, which forced Judge Russell Healey to declare a mistrial on that count.

The charges stem from an incident in Jacksonville, Florida on November 23, 2012, when Dunn encountered four African-American teenagers in a gas station parking lot and fired on their vehicle ten times with a handgun following an argument over loud music. One of the teenagers, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, was slain. Dunn fled the scene of the crime and was arrested the following day 175 miles away at his home in Brevard County. He claimed to have fired because Davis leveled a shotgun at him, but no such weapon was ever recovered and Dunn’s girlfriend, who was with him that evening, testified that he never told her the teenagers had a firearm.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence is pleased to see some measure of justice done in this case—Dunn is facing at least 60 years in prison for his convictions on attempted murder charges—but the verdict is yet another indictment of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which was written and promoted by the National Rifle Association. It defies belief that a man who senselessly opened fire on a group of teenagers out of anger would be convicted for missing three of them, yet exonerated for the one he killed in cold blood.

The reason for that is the “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows individuals who believe they are under threat of “great bodily harm” to use lethal force to defend themselves even if, despite their subjective belief, no real threat exists. Dunn’s lawyer, Cory Strolla, cited the law explicity in his closing arguments, stating, “Michael Dunn was in a public place where he had a legal right to be, he had no duty to retreat, and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.” Additonally, the instructions received by the jury on what constitutes justifiable homicide contained language directly from Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

For thousands of years, from Biblical law through British common law and into America jurisprudence, we condemned those who took human life when it was not absolutely necessary. In fact, the very reason that our Founders created democratic government was to reject the idea that “the guys with the guns make the rules.” In order to function properly, organized government must be able to offer redress when life is taken needlessly. If it can’t do so, then citizens will be forced to seek “justice” themselves and a spiral of anarchy will begin.

“Stand Your Ground” (aka “Kill at Will”) laws are the product of a new idea, popularized by the gun lobby, that it is morally acceptable—or even virtuous—to take human life when you don’t have to. This idea, when codified in law, encourages people with questionable judgment and little or no training to use lethal force with few if any consequences.

The verdict in the Jordan Davis trial, coming on the heels of the acquittal of George Zimmerman and other travesties of justice, shows that Florida is embracing this vision of vigilantism and anarchy. The state is increasingly powerless to prosecute murders and residents now have no choice but assume that even mundane arguments can lead to gunplay. This might be good for the National Rifle Association, which has promoted “Stand Your Ground” laws as a way to increase profits from sales of compact pistols, but it is disastrous to public safety and civil society.

Let us all heed the words of Ron Davis, Jordan’s father: “We don’t accept a law that would allow our children to be regarded as collateral damage.” All Americans of conscience must now come together to do the critical work of repealing immoral “Stand Your Ground” laws in the 26 states where they have been enacted. We owe our children, and our nation, nothing less.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence seeks to secure freedom from gun violence through research, strategic engagement and effective policy advocacy.

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