The debate over violence in the name of self-defense has been going on since well before some of today’s “expert” media analysts grew out of short pants. Bernie Goetz became a household name all across America in 1984, when he opened fire on some gangsters attempting to rob him with a sharpened screwdriver. For the record, New York did not then — and does not today — have any sort of a stand your ground law. And yet, following a trial which was the biggest media spectacle of its time until O.J. Simpson, Goetz was convicted on only a charge of having an unlicensed firearm.
So have these laws helped or hurt society? On the whole, I still maintain that they act as a force for the greater good. Can they be abused by those with evil intent or incompetent, dishonest law enforcement officers? Yes, but then so can most laws which are passed with beneficial intent. And they are sometimes abused more by actual criminals than police officers or victims. Take, for example, the case of Carl England, whose son Jacob is in the news for another spree of violence in Oklahoma. When a robber entered his home, he came after the intruder with a stick. The thief responded by shooting him and was later let off on the charge based on a stand your ground type of defense, saying he felt “threatened” by England.
There will always be cases where clever people with savvy attorneys will find ways to abuse the law for their own benefit, but that doesn’t mean we should throw the handguns out with the bathwater. It’s far too cavalier to make simplistic claims about an armed society being a polite society when discussing tragic cases such as these, but a free, open society will always include some criminal elements. It’s just part of the nature of man, sadly. But free people also need to be assured of the right to defend themselves on an even playing field if they choose to do so. Our real responsibility is to ensure that law enforcement has the tools and the training to weed out the bad guys from the innocent citizens when cases such as these arise.