After the Trayvon Martin case, the Florida version of this sort of thing became an issue, as it should have. Twenty-plus states have similar laws.
It's easy to decry their purpose and imply it's nothing but legalized murder inspired and supported by the NRA and every right wing gun nut in the country. But, is that true, any of it?
In New York State, if you awake in the night and find an intruder in your home and shoot them dead, are you legally within your rights? You'd assume yes, wouldn't you?
Actually, you're not. I'd have to advise if you're ever in that circumstance, get a lawyer and get a good one and get them fast!
Why? Because in New York if you have an opportunity to avoid the situation, to flee, so to speak, you can be charged. You'll be questioned as to whether you could have called 911, retreated to a bedroom until the police arrived, all sorts of things like that. You'll also be asked if you had reason to think the intruder was armed.
I guess in New York there's an assumption that all homeowners could win a physical altercation with any and all intruders in their home. Depending on the prosecutor, and possibly your skin color, you will be charged.
Now I don't know about the rest of you, but in my opinion, any intruder in anyone's home has a legal target on their person, period, no exceptions. By the way, if that intruder sees you and tries to run away and you shoot them anyway, you're probably going to jail. A piece of advice from several policemen I know is that if you ever shoot an intruder, make sure he's in your house, he's armed and he's dead when the police arrive. A stand your ground law would eliminate these issues, and well they should!
In Louisiana, a law was passed that any citizen could kill anyone attempting to carjack their vehicle. Does that sound extreme to you? Well, that law was passed because a man being carjacked reached across his seat, picked up a large hunting knife lying there, and stabbed the carjacker to death. A local prosecutor decided to charge him with murder because the carjacker was unarmed. The Louisiana legislature felt differently, and passed the law making sure it has retroactive coverage, case closed.
In New York state, once again, and locally, just up the road to the Southtowns, a young man was working in a convenient store and gas station when a man came in and attempted to rob him at gunpoint. Somehow this young man managed to disarm the thief, grabbed the gun and chased him from the store. He took aim and shot the fleeing suspect, wounding him and allowing the police to make an immediate arrest of a dangerous criminal. (I don't know about you, but ANY criminal using a loaded gun to commit a crime has bad intentions and should be considered dangerous. I guarantee you if the police hadn't caught him right away, he'd have been listed as "armed and dangerous" on their reports.)
In my opinion, and most others in the area, this young man was a hero and a brave upstanding citizen.
Not to local prosecutors though. They charged him with a felony because that thief was fleeing and that meant nobody was in danger. Really? If that thief got away, does anyone think his criminal career was over? Does anyone think he'd be less likely to shoot the next time? Then the prosecution released a story that the employee hero had a criminal record.
Yeah, he did, a minor offense from years ago when he was 17 years old. So what? Where's the relevance?
After public outcry got loud enough, the resolution of the case was no jail time but a conviction of a criminal offense. I'm betting if that young man had been black, he'd be in jail right now. I hate to break it to many, but your odds of going to jail for similar and even exact offenses go up 10-fold if you're a minority in America. That's fact, not conjecture.
Trayvon Martin's case is educational on several fronts. First it clearly shows the political involvement of who gets charged and what those charges might be. Until a large and vocal group of people led by Trayvon Martin's parents got involved and made it an issue, no charges were filed, nor would they have been due to Florida's extremely loosely defined "Stand Your Ground" law.
Then, when the publicity became national, the case was revisited, and suddenly, yes, charges would be filed. But what charges, I might ask? Was second-degree murder a sustainable charge? Even as a layman I thought from the get go that it was so obviously unsustainable that it was done on purpose by people who wanted George Zimmerman to get off. In retrospect I think it was due to the publicity and wanting to address the public anger.
As it turns out, at the end, after arguing for the entire trial for a murder conviction, the prosecution added a charge of manslaughter, as it should have from day one. This was clearly not a murder case and never was. I would have guessed a manslaughter charge from the beginning might have been upheld, but I would have tacked on the possibility for criminally negligent homicide and maybe reckless endangerment as well. The odds of some sort of jail time for a death clearly resulting from Zimmerman's actions would have been obtained. The funny thing is, Trayvon Martin's attack and beating of Zimmerman would have been perfectly legal under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, as he had perfectly good reason to "feel threatened".
The point is, though many feel otherwise, "Stand Your Ground" laws are mostly passed to allow citizens to reasonably protect themselves, not only from criminals but from those elected to prosecute them. In far too many states, a person's home is not his/her castle.
Unfortunately, as with most laws passed due to purely political reasons by political hacks, they often, like Florida's, go too far. That doesn't mean they shouldn't exist.
Paul Christopher is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org