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Stand your ground, legal sanction for deadly force

Fri, Jul 26th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

By Karen Reisner

Minnesota is ‘not’ one of the 23 states in our country that has some form of a “stand your ground” law. Personally, I feel safer living where this kind of law does not exist because it seems to invite confrontation.

We tend to glamorize the Old West and what many believe was the ‘OK Corral’ type of life. Actually, the towns in the Old West often had check your gun laws as one entered a town. Gun laws in many of these cities are less restrictive today than they were back then.

With the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin the stand your ground law in Florida was not used by the defense, only the claim of self-defense. However, the judge in her instructions to the jury said they must acquit if they believed that Zimmerman didn’t have a duty to retreat and if he had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.

If the Florida stand your ground law was not in existence, the judge’s instructions would have likely been that Zimmerman wouldn’t have been able to justify the use of force which could likely cause death or serious injury if by retreating he could have avoided the need for force.

The verdict may have been justified under Florida law, but it leaves an unsettling gut feeling for many of justice lost.

Since the implementation of stand your ground laws, some of the states have seen large increases in “justifiable homicides” that fall within the law.

Attorney General Eric Holder insists the stand your ground laws have contributed to confrontations resulting in deaths by including more actions under the umbrella of self-defense. He said stand your ground laws strive “to fix something that was never broken.”

This case has ripped off the scab and exposed the raw emotions concerning a perceived uneven application of the law by the legal system, especially for black and brown races. Stereotyping, prejudice and bias are all too real in both the application of laws and the way people treat people differently from themselves.

President Obama on July 19, speaking of his personal experience as a black man in American society, asked a fair question, “If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?” I wonder if the roles were reversed, would there have been a similar tragic result and would Martin have been acquitted?

There is much that divides us including race, religion, economic class, education, and so on. This country has certainly evolved, albeit slowly, over the last 50 years concerning racial equality, but there still remains a real disparity. Perhaps the greater disparities are with economic class and corresponding educational opportunities.

Education is key. Differences among us create mistrust, much of which is driven by ignorance. The availability of a good education is an equalizer. Without educational opportunities the promise of an untold number of human beings is being lost.

We are a country with divergent opinions on many issues including race. Discussion is a healthy step toward understanding and unity. Interaction between people of diverse backgrounds leads to understanding. Isolation of groups reduces understanding and creates barriers.

Racial and ethnic differences are more of a challenge for the so-called American ‘melting pot.’ In our increasingly diverse population can long time Americans of various races and new immigrants preserve their ethnic identity and still come together successfully united as Americans?

A person’s race is part of their identity and their roots, but race should not define a person or limit his or her lifelong opportunities.

Change comes along slowly. Changes in personal and social attitudes come even more slowly. Many in our society are working at being more inclusive, others continue to resist.

I am optimistic for the future of America and the ability of people to persevere under difficult circumstances and to mature socially. The demographics of our country are changing and getting along is necessary for the future of America.

Our diversity of cultures and ethnicities can make us stronger. Learning to live together, respecting each other’s civil rights are appropriate goals for a strong America. Laws have to be fair and applied equally.

It is a fact that there is a higher crime rate among black males. Most black young men are saddled with this stereotype whether deserved or not. President Obama recognized in his comments that black men are disproportionally the victims and the perpetrators of crime in this country. The black community needs to take some responsibility for the environment that produces more violence among young men. Young people need the education and other tools necessary to give them an opportunity to achieve the ‘American Dream.’ A degree of hope for a path to a better life may stem from some of the violence in these communities.

The distrust and fear of black men by many of us separates and isolates them. The ingrained bias is a product of our upbringing and media influences. If Martin were ‘white,’ would he be alive today?

Stand your ground laws in my opinion are flawed, encourage an escalation to violence and have no place in a future America. Morally we need to strive to understand and accept differences between us and our fellow countrymen. Retreating for your own protection and contacting the proper authorities makes more sense and will more likely avoid the loss of innocent life.

I am optimistic that with reflection there can be some positive changes in attitudes, especially among the younger generation as a result of this young man’s unnecessary and tragic death. Equal protection under the law is a must. President Obama called for an examination of state and local laws to see if they are designed in such a way that encourages altercations, confrontations, and tragedies. A reexamination of laws periodically to see if their implementations have improved or diminished the quality of life is part of good governance.


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2:49:00, Jul 29th 2013

samwho1 says:
Minnesota's House and Senate voted in a "stand your ground" law (by a healthy margin) which was vetoed by Gov. Dayton. The fact is that the majority of Minnesotans support this kind of legislation. I disagree that this type of law invites confrontation. What it does is shift the balance of one's right to defend him/her self in favor of the victim rather than the criminal. You state that in states where this type of legislation has passed, there has been an increase in "justifiable homicides". The reason? It's not that the homicide rate has increased over all, it's because criminals are the ones being killed instead of innocent victims. That's a bad thing? It would be nice if no one got killed but I'd rather be on this side of the ledger than the other. The idea that dialing 911 is going to save someone from the violent actions of another is a fantasy. The only thing accomplished by that is to get the authorities started your way (don't get me wrong as that is good and necessary) and to let the "clean-up crew" where to go. As the saying goes,"when seconds count, the police are only minutes away".

The Trayvon Martin case, tragic as it was, had very little to do with "stand your ground" in my opinion. For you to project what instructions the judge in this case might have given if the law had not been in effect is self-serving and, unfortunately, biased. Disappointing. It was, however, a great opportunity for the liberal media to exploit the issue and put their own twist on it. As a believer in the justice system, I'm not going to second guess the jury in this case. Were Trayvon's civil rights violated? Maybe. Was he racially profiled? Probably. Did he have a right to attack George Zimmerman? I think not and that is the crux of the matter. And Black, White, Latin, Asian, whatever, George Zimmerman had a right to defend himself. Poor judgement and all. I would say the same thing irregardless of the race of either party. Sadly, President Obama's remarks on this issue have been reckless, irresponsible and disrespectful of the Judicial system.

I agree with you that we need to find a way to come together and live peacefully with each other. This melting pot we call America is a magical place. I strongly believe in diversity and racial equality but I don't see how this issue coincides with the issue of one's right to self defense.


Sam Blackburn
Blackburn Custom Gunworks
Preston, MN