Should Stand Your Ground Laws Be Abolished?

2334 words (9 pages) Essay in Criminal Law

05/08/19 Criminal Law Reference this

Last modified: 05/08/19 Author: Law student

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Stand Your Ground Laws Should be Abolished in the United State

Stand your ground. Over the past 13 years, stand your ground laws have too often been at the center of heated debates and controversy. Since the Florida law was passed in 2005, there has been several controversial cases regarding the Stand your ground law. Some of those cases where a blatant abuse of a law that was intended to protect people. Other cases such Trayvon Martin, were not as definitive, resulting in so many people being divided on whether stand your ground laws help to reduce violent crimes or are they just an excuse for people to commit murder without prosecution. According to Evelyn Reyes, the writer of Florida stand your ground law: How to get away with murder. Stand your ground laws create a unique situation amongst people, dividing those who are trigger-happy and those who are in favor of gun control legislation. Evelyn goes on to say that the critical issue lies within the judicial interpretation of the law on a case by case basis (Rayes pg 149). A comparison between the cases of George Zimmerman and Marissa Alexander will show how differently stand your ground can be used or not even allowed to be used at all.

Many supporters of stand your ground laws would argue that Stand your ground is a way for law-abiding Americans to protect themselves from criminals who mean to do them harm. While I do agree there have been cases where stand your ground has worked the way it was intended, research has shown that stand your ground has not only been abused, but has been an excuse to commit hate crimes against people of color.[1] In fact, since the passage of the stand your ground law in Florida gun related homicides have increased by over 200%.[2]

Several years later stand your ground laws are still a hot topic of political conversations, yet there seems to be no middle ground on this topic. As I dive deeper into the research, I will show how stand your ground may have been passed with the intention of protecting law abiding citizens but have now been hijacked and used mostly by white supremacists and others who wish to abuse their limited power to commit murder all while avoiding prosecution.

With the abuse of these types of laws being so ramped, I submit that Stand your ground laws should be abolished in all states.

What is Stand your ground, and why it is so controversial?

The Florida Stand your ground law is defined in Florida statute 776.012 under “JUSTIFIABLE USE OF FORCE”.

(1) A person is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. A person who uses or threatens to use force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force.

(2) A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.[3]

The controversy over stand your ground laws has manifest many times over when the law is not only abused by so called “vigilantes” but used as an excuse to murder people while avoiding prosecution. Since the Florida law was passed in 2005, there has been several controversial cases regarding the Stand your ground law. Some of those cases such as Trayvon Martin, were not definitive as to what really happened. Other cases where a blatant abuse of a law that was intended to protect people thus demonstrating how Stand your ground laws are used as an excuse to commit murder.

There have been several cases in since 2005 that clearly demonstrated people committing murder and then attempt claim the stand your ground defense. Once such case was the murder of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old African American teenager who was shot and killed at a Jacksonville Southside gas station by Michael Dunn over an argument about loud music. One of the things prosecutors found disturbing about this case was Michael Dunn’s behavior after the shooting. According to state prosecutors Michael Dunn failed to call the police and returned to his hotel with his fiancé for a pizza and a cocktail after the shooting. Assistance state attorney John guy said that kind of behavior was consistent “with guilt”. Even though Michael done fired at the SUV that Jordan Davis was in along with three of his friends he still maintains that he felt that his life was in danger because Jordan Davis was hurling threats at him and as Davis was exiting the SUV Michael Dunn said he felt his life was in imminent danger.4

As we have seen, stand your ground laws have been disproportionately used against African Americans. Stand your ground laws have also been unfairly used base on gender.

Often women have been denied the stand your ground defense. There have been many cases where men, specifically white man have been allowed to use the stand your ground defense, however in certain cases women have been discriminated against by not allowing them to invoke the same stand your ground defense that their male counterparts have been afforded many times over. One example of such a case is Marissa Alexander. At the time she was a 31-year-old African-American female who was convicted in 2011 of aggravated assault in with a deadly weapon by firing a warning shot at her husband who she claims was abusing her. Due to the fact that she did not fired a warning shot at the ceiling, but instead fired at the wall next to her husband who at the time was standing next to his son; the judge ruled that there was a factual dispute on her stand your ground defense. Consequently, she was not allowed to use the stand your ground law as a defense.[4]

This case along with several others raises the question of why stand your ground laws are so easily abused. My personal theory is that stand your ground laws not only give ordinary citizens a false sense of security, but a false sense of power by granting police powers to private citizens who are not required to have the same level of training and accountability that police officers have. By giving this power to private citizens it has emboldened people to prematurely use their firearms rather than attempting to retreat from situations that could have been diffused without bloodshed.

Another factor to consider is the influence of special interest groups, specifically the political and financial influence of powerful lobbyists in Washington such as the national rifle Association (NRA).

The NRA is the biggest supporter of stand your ground laws across the country and has been involved in nearly every state that has past stand your ground legislation. In fact, on average the NRA spends over 250 million a year advocating for gun legislation and organizing against gun control advocates (Rayes pg 151).

Some supporters of stand your ground laws would argue that Stand your ground is a way for law-abiding Americans to protect themselves from criminals who mean to do them harm. Rich Morthland, a member of the Illinois House of Representatives says that Left leaning media paints law-abiding gun owners as a shoot first ask questions later type and somehow imply that the law makes it both acceptable and legal for these gun owners to abuse stand your ground laws[5]. Morthland goes on to state the following…

“Stand your ground” laws do not exist to allow ordinary citizens to live out Dirty Harry fantasies. Nor are they in place to return us to the O.K. Corral. Rather, states are turning to these measures to uphold the principle that our laws must protect the innocent over the criminal, the peace-loving over the violent, and the law-keeper over the law-breaker. In a situation where a citizen is under attack, it cannot be incumbent upon that individual to take extraordinary measures to avoid the conflict that he or she did not initiate. Such demands serve only to give additional power and control to the assailant. Our laws must protect good people over bad people.

Woodlands claims are refuted by stating the fact that gun homicides have increased by over 200% since the stand your ground law was passed in Florida in 2005. Also, if stand your ground laws are only used in cases where killings are legitimately justified then why are so many minorities disproportionately affected?

As I stated before I believe these laws were originally past with the best of intentions. However, the very people who stand ground laws were meant to protect have in some ways become the victim. This is evident in the case of Jordan Davis and how he was needlessly murdered by Michael Dunn over a dispute about loud music. One can’t help but wonder how things could have unfolded that night in Jacksonville when Jordan Davis was killed if Michael Dunn would’ve just walked away. What is however undisputable is the role that stand your ground played in Jordan Davis’s death by needlessly empowering Michael Dunn with a false sense of authority and giving him the illusion that he was above the law.

We have also seen how stand your ground is used disproportionately and mostly in favor of men such as in the case of Marissa Alexander, being denied the right to use the same law that so many of male were allotted. People cannot be allowed to act as vigilantes. Stand your ground laws may have been passed with the best of intentions of protecting law-abiding citizens from criminals who wish to do them harm but the fact is gun related homicides have increased by over 200% since stand your ground was passed in Florida back into thousand five.

We have also seen how a disproportionate number of African-American teenagers and young men needlessly killed by people emboldened by stand your ground laws that were simply unwilling to walk away or find a peaceful solution. Let’s stop the madness and perhaps we could save young man and boys from a needless and early death. This can only be done if we abolish stand your ground laws in all states.

Works Cited

  • Murphy, Justin. “Are ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws Racist and Sexist? A Statistical Analysis of Cases in Florida, 2005–2013pass:[*].” Social Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell), vol. 99, no. 1, Mar. 2018, pp. 439–452. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/ssqu.12402.
  • REYES, EVELYN1. “Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law: How to Get Away with Murder.” Intercultural Human Rights Law Review, vol. 12, Jan. 2017, pp. 147–186. EBSCOhost,libproxy.chapman.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,uid,cookie,url&db=ofm&AN=126281933&site=
  • Statutes & Constitution :View Statutes : Online Sunshine, 16 Dec. 2018, www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0700-0799/0776/Sections/0776.012.html.
  • Hauser, Christine. “Florida Woman Whose ‘Stand Your Ground’ Defense Was Rejected Is Released.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 Feb. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/us/marissa-alexander-released-stand-your-ground.html.
  • Rich Morthland, “’Stand Your Ground’ Laws Protect the Innocent.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, www.usnews.com/debate-club/are-stand-your-ground-laws-a-good-idea/stand-your-ground-laws-protect-the-innocent.

[1] Murphy, Justin. “Are ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws Racist and Sexist? A Statistical Analysis of Cases in Florida, 2005–2013pass:[*].” Social Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell), vol. 99, no. 1, Mar. 2018, pp. 439–452. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/ssqu.12402.

[2] REYES, EVELYN1. “Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law: How to Get Away with Murder.” Intercultural Human Rights Law Review, vol. 12, Jan. 2017, pp. 147–186. EBSCOhost, libproxy.chapman.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,uid,cookie,url&db=ofm&AN=126281933&site=

[3] Statutes & Constitution :View Statutes : Online Sunshine, 16 Dec. 2018, www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0700-0799/0776/Sections/0776.012.html.

[4] Hauser, Christine. “Florida Woman Whose ‘Stand Your Ground’ Defense Was Rejected Is Released.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 Feb. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/us/marissa-alexander-released-stand-your-ground.html.

[5] Rich Morthland, “’Stand Your Ground’ Laws Protect the Innocent.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, www.usnews.com/debate-club/are-stand-your-ground-laws-a-good-idea/stand-your-ground-laws-protect-the-innocent.

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