NRA, ALEC, Want You To Stand Your Ground, Wild West Style

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — I just love these names — want you to stand your ground like it’s still the 19th century Wild West — unless your are black of course. I don’t see the NRA saying if Trayvon Martin had a gun he could have defended himself. What was that saying again — “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.” Was Trayvon Martin the “bad guy” because he didn’t have a gun?

Why would we create a law not in service of a problem? So I ask, what problem are people looking to solve with “stand your ground” laws? What problem was so prevalent in society that it required over 20 states to issue a license to kill to all citizens?

We know the murder rate in the United States is at a 50 year low. We know all forms of violent crimes are well down from the highs posted in the 1970s and into the 1990s. Maybe someone in 1983 could argue for stand your ground laws in response to an escalating murder rate (not that it would have been a good law then either), but that didn’t happen. Instead, stand your ground laws did not take hold until violent crimes fell from decades ago peaks. Florida did not pass it’s stand your ground law until 2005, and since then over 20 states have followed. So I ask again, why is this happening? What problem is being solved by stand your ground? And if these laws are not solving a problem, then why were they created?

The Independent — The [Florida ‘stand your ground’] law, which supposedly protects citizens who kill in self-defence, was created not at the behest of concerned Florida citizens, but by the gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful right-wing policy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and a handful of pliant politicians. Since it was introduced in Florida in 2005, it has spread to 24 more US states.

Professor Robert Spitzer, a political scientist and author of several books on the NRA, says: “The real culprit in the Trayvon Martin case was not Zimmerman but Stand Your Ground. It’s why the police did not investigate aggressively, it’s why it took six weeks to bring charges against Zimmerman, and it’s why his self-defence claim was extremely difficult to overcome. Stand Your Ground makes not only prosecution, but even mere investigation, very difficult.”

Why would politicians create such a law? Why would we want to return to a Wild West style of law enforcement where each citizen is free to take the life of another human being just because he or she says they felt threatened?

The Independent — The original Stand Your Ground legislation was crafted by state lawmakers who stuck closely to guidelines set by Marion Hammer, a Florida-based former president of the NRA. After it was signed into law by the then Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, in April 2005, the NRA’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, described it as the “first step of a multi-state strategy”. Its passage was smoothed by ALEC, a conservative network whose backers include the NRA, Walmart and organisations linked to the right-wing billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch.

I know this might sound cynical, but I can understand why the NRA (the lobbying arm of the gun industry) and Walmart (the biggest seller of guns and ammunition in the country) would want laws that make it more likely for people to arm themselves. Maybe if we can transport a nation of 300 million people back to a place and time of citizen-based justice, that will lead to increased sales of guns, and enlarged pockets for shareholders.

The Nation — In those states [that enacted stand your ground laws], as in Florida, the number of so-called “justifiable homicides” is on the rise. Florida Department of Law Enforcement suggests that the number of justifiable homicides in the state have tripled since Jeb Bush signed the “Stand Your Ground” law.

Why? Former US Attorney Kendall Coffey tells NBC, “The ‘Stand Your Ground’ law is a license to kill.”

“The ‘Stand Your Ground’ law has become a huge obstacle to preventing exactly this kind of self-appointed vigilantism—this kind of vigilante justice,” says the veteran federal prosecutor. “It used to be if you shot somebody in quote-unquote ‘self-defense,’ you were protected. But in 2005, Florida decided to become the pioneering state to extend this kind of self-protection to wherever the heck you go…”

You already had the right to defend yourself before stand your ground laws gave you a license to kill by the state. The difference now is that you are not required to retreat. You can in fact cause a confrontation, escalate the situation, and then if it gets out of control and you feel your life is threatened, the state is offering you a “get out of jail free” card. So pull out that gun and shoot someone dead. The state is looking the other way.

So as this relates to the Zimmerman verdict — Did George Zimmerman have no responsibility in this situation? Regardless of whether he eventually felt his life was threatened, he is solely responsible for the confrontation that ended with him pulling the trigger and killing Trayvon Martin. How do some people so easily overlook this fact? Zimmerman created this situation on his own. Trayvon Martin was minding his own business. It is Zimmerman who was not minding his own business. It is Zimmerman who pursued Martin. Had it not been for Zimmerman’s actions that led up to the confrontation, Martin would still be alive. But many still believe Zimmerman is blameless and Martin is just a thug who had it coming.

And why are so many people invested in repeating the claim that Florida’s “stand your ground” law played no role in the Zimmerman trial? It is true that Zimmerman’s defense team did not invoke stand your ground, but that doesn’t mean the law didn’t impact the trial. Stand your ground is the law in Florida. And the law is what a jury considers when it renders a guilty or not guilty verdict. For that reason alone, stand your ground played a role in the trial. But if that’s not convincing, then how about the instructions given to the jury by the judge that cited word-for-word Florida’s stand your ground law?

The Bilerico Project — Contrary to claims that it had nothing to do with the Zimmerman verdict, Florida’s “stand your ground” law relates directly to both the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the acquittal of Zimmerman for Martin’s murder. Zimmerman’s defense steered clear of a “stand your ground” defense, but the judge explicitly mentioned “stand your ground” in her instructions to the jury. Even before Zimmerman was arrested and charged, 44 days after ending Trayvon Martin’s life, “stand your ground” also played a role in the decision not to arrest Zimmerman that night, by making it difficult to arrest anyone who claimed self defense. Apparently, that was the intent.

Beyond that, I’d say that Florida’s “stand your ground” law – which Zimmerman studied prior to the shooting – gave him the green light to follow Trayvon Martin, first in his truck and then on foot, and even initiate the confrontation that ended in Martin’s death. During the 911 call in which he reported Martin as a “suspicious person,” George Zimmerman indicated to the 911 dispatcher that he believes Martin might be “on drugs,” and armed. (Zimmerman reports Martin reaching into his waistband for what he assumed was a weapon, but what was actually most likely the can of iced tea Martin had just purchased.)

Any of these assumptions should have been enough for Zimmerman to stay in his truck, but thanks to “stand your ground” Zimmerman had no “duty to retreat” or stay in his truck until the police arrived. In fact, the law allowed Zimmerman to escalate his encounter with Martin, until he finally felt a need to “stand his ground.” Florida’s concealed carry law meant Zimmerman had all the firepower he needed to “stand his ground.” On that Feburary night more than a year ago, it all made for a lethal combination.

Tell me again how “stand your ground” had nothing to do with the Zimmerman trial?

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