Misinformed Attacks on 'Stand Your Ground' Laws

Among the many sad results coming out of the Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida, one of the latecomers to the party is the fresh and frequently jaundiced look being taken at the Sunshine State’s “stand your ground” law. As the Christian Science Monitor recently reported, nearly every state in the nation has either some form of rule along these lines or the more restrictive Castle Doctrine, and gun prohibitionist groups are using these headlines to gin up support for repealing them. (Only six states and the District of Columbia currently have no similar legislation in place at this time.)

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Trayvon Martin’s encounter with George Zimmerman is probably one of the least suitable examples you could choose to mount such an offensive. Personally, I have avoided writing about this case up until now for what seemed a rather obvious reason. At least for the present, none of us -- aside from Zimmerman himself and a few possible witnesses -- knows exactly what happened in Sanford, Florida, on February 26. The thought of jumping in with a media verdict absent the facts of the case led George Will to ask, during a recent political roundtable, if we learned nothing from the Duke lacrosse case.

But even without yet knowing the actual events of the day, boiling down the various accounts which have surfaced leads us to believe that one of two narratives will prove to be true. You may think of it as the tales of the two Samaritans. In one version, the “evil George Zimmerman” went out on patrol hunting for villains and believed he had found one in the person of Trayvon Martin. Following a brief encounter and exchange of words, he chased the youth down and shot him in cold blood.

The other telling of the tale begins in the same fashion, but after the “good Zimmerman” meets and seeks to question Martin about his activities, he is set upon by the interloper. Martin attacks him, pins him to the ground, punches him, and begins smashing George’s head into the turf. At that point, Zimmerman produces his gun and during the ensuing struggle he shoots Martin.

These stories don’t have a happy ending, but they do have one thing in common: neither has anything to do with Florida’s stand your ground law. The aspect of the legislation under debate has to do with whether or not a person should be allowed to use force -- even deadly force -- in the name of self-defense without first seeking to retreat. If this turns out to be the case of the “evil George,” then retreat was never even a consideration. He was chasing down his prey and committing an act of violence upon his victim. If it’s the “good George” we’re dealing with, then he was pinned down on the ground and retreat was not one of the options available to him.