By Jorge Amselle
It is no surprise that the lefty media hates guns but ever since the Travon Martin shooting in Florida they have become especially apoplectic about Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws. In their continued criticism they have brought up two other Florida shooting incidents and one in Arizona. They conveniently ignore the fact that in all of these incidents, including the Travon Martin case SYG was either not a factor or most likely doesn’t apply. (I won’t get into the specifics but I included the links so you can judge for yourself).
Basically these laws make it clear that in a self-defense situation you do not have a duty to retreat before using lethal force. They are the law in 22 states. In the rest of the country, at least outside your home, you may have a duty to retreat.
The most recent anti SYG rant comes from Dahlia Lithwick over at Slate.com. She is smart and an attorney (who should know better) and occasionally makes good points just not on guns. Using the aforementioned examples she tried to make the case that SYG has turned gun owners into a shoot first ask questions later type and that the law has actually made this both acceptable and legal.
Let’s start with the obvious. SYG laws do not change the criteria for claiming legitimate self-defense or the use of lethal force. It is not enough to say you thought you saw a gun or that you were in fear for your life. The specifics have to be such that a reasonable person would feel the same way. Keep in mind that this reasonable person will be sitting in a comfortable chair, far away from danger, and dispassionately considering your argument. Absent clear physical evidence or witnesses it isn’t as easy to prove self-defense as the media makes it out to be.
The use of force also has to be proportional in most cases. If someone is simply threatening you with their words and gestures, you can’t shoot them no matter how scared you are. If you get in a fight with someone and were a participant in the altercation your ability to later claim self-defense if you use lethal force will be severely compromised. SYG changes none of this.
Lithwick also makes it seem that SYG is a new phenomenon, something states just started instituting in the last decade. It is true that legislatures started passing these laws in a very specific manner more recently but case law questioning the Duty to retreat (which is the basis for SYG) goes back well over 100 years. The best known example of this is Brown v. United States (1921) where the U.S Supreme Court held that there was no duty to retreat in a legitimate self-defense case.
Here is an excerpt about this case from Wikipedia “if a man reasonably believes that he is in immediate danger of death or grievous bodily harm from his assailant he may stand his ground and that if he kills him he has not exceed the bounds of lawful self-defense.” Wow, they were using the term “stand your ground” in 1921. Further, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote (also from Wikipedia) “Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife. Therefore, in this Court, at least, it is not a condition of immunity that one in that situation should pause to consider whether a reasonable man might not think it possible to fly with safety or to disable his assailant rather than to kill him.” And there is that SOB the reasonable man again.
In simple terms we need SYG laws because too often prosecutors in self-defense cases ended up doing exactly what Justice Holmes warns against, using their own detached reflection outside the presence of that uplifted knife to judge the legitimacy of the actions of another. Grand Juries go along and jurors are told how the state law says you have a duty to retreat if you can safely do so. Twelve people sitting in perfect safety get to decide if it was safe for you to retreat before they have to decide if it was OK for you to use lethal force to defend yourself.
Duty-to-retreat laws place an extra and unreasonable burden on those claiming legitimate self-defense. That is why so many states have enacted specific legislation to eliminate duty to retreat. Frankly, as an advocate of self-defense and a firearms instructor I think it is a good idea to retreat if you can but I don’t feel qualified to sit in judgment of another person’s decisions when in mortal danger. Liberals seem to have no qualms about judging others it seems.
Jorge Amselle is a certified firearms instructor and writer covering all aspects of the industry from military and law enforcement firearms and training to the shooting sports. His youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/amselle.