The traditional presumption in the law—from the advent of the Hebrew Bible through the creation of Roman law, English common law, and American law—has been that if you could spare human life, it was incumbent upon you to do so. With “Stand Your Ground” (aka “Shoot First”) laws, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its partners in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have turned 3,000 years of jurisprudence on its head. Now you can provoke a fight, and if losing that fight, kill the person you attacked.
The NRA’s law represents a dangerous and unprecedented escalation in the use of force in the public space, allowing individuals to kill when they merely fear “great bodily harm” (i.e., a fistfight, shoving match, etc.). The concept of responding with proportional force has been obliterated. Additionally, “Stand Your Ground” laws remove the duty to retreat from a conflict in public, allowing individuals to shoot and kill even when they could otherwise walk away safely from an altercation.
On April 26, 2005, Florida enacted a “Stand Your Ground” law at the behest of NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer. Today, a total of 27 states have these laws on the books. The motive of the NRA and ALEC in promoting these laws is financial. Faced with a decades-long decline in gun ownership in America, the gun industry needs to keep selling new guns to old customers. In this case, compact “defensive handguns” that can be carried in public and used without fear of prosecution.
The message to would-be killers is now clear. You need not fear carrying your gun in public, or using it. If you do, just make sure you are the only one remaining to testify about the nature of the confrontation in question.
Until the NRA’s lethal agenda is countered by Americans of conscience, the inevitability of future Trayvon Martins will hang over America like a funeral shroud.
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