March 23rd, 2012

Stand Your Ground? NOT!

Those who have been regular followers of this blog know that I am an advocate of the right to keep and bear arms. Therefore, I feel it appropriate to comment on the dreadful Trayvon Martin case. Before this, I had never heard of such a thing as a "stand your ground" law; having heard of it, I think it is abominable.

In general, I support what it commonly called the "castle doctrine," which holds that in one's own home, one is not required to "retreat" or avoid confrontation with an intruder. This is a specific exception to the historical laws on self-defense/defense of others, which had always ruled that if one could escape or avoid an assailant with out use of force, one should do so. Obviously, this becomes problematical when in one's own home--you might be "cornered" and have nowhere to retreat to, or, one's loved ones may be elsewhere in the dwelling, and retreating might expose them to attack in your stead.

Even the castle doctrine has its problems. Although the average citizen is not expected to be able to judge what constitutes "excessive force" in the same way that a trained police officer might be expected to, it makes me uncomfortable that it is frequently interpreted as the right to kill an intruder out of hand. In a recent case in upstate Wisconsin, a 20 yeasr old man, fleeing police who were breaking up an underage drinking party, took shelter in what has been described as the "enclosed porch" of a nearby home, whereupon he was shot and killed by the householder. Police issued no charges citing Wisconsin's recently enacted castle doctrine law. Is an "enclosed porch" really part of the "castle"?

Per the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel:

"The partygoers fled from the garage. Morrison was seen running behind the house of the man who called police.

The man told investigators he heard noises by the back porch, thought someone might be breaking in and grabbed and his loaded revolver.

The light in the porch room was not on when the man opened the door and entered before encountering Morrison, who had been hiding behind the door between a refrigerator and a dresser.

The man then asked Morrison what he was doing there before Morrison stood up, raised his hand and took a step toward him.

The homeowner then fired once, striking Morrison in the chest, according to the report, before yelling to his wife to call 911.

According to the district attorney's statement, the limited requirements under the castle doctrine law regarding reasonable use of force were met by the homeowner and he reasonably believed it was necessary to fire his weapon to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself.

That the room was small and dark, the belief that someone was breaking in and that he was startled when he saw Morrison were cited as factors that showed the homeowner's action was lawful.

Protection of his wife, two children, along with another child younger than 10, all of whom were in the home, was also cited as a factor."

Prior to enactment of such a thing as a "stand your ground" law, the law has been that there is no expectation of privacy or security in the public street, and therefore there was the duty to retreat or avoid threats. The "stand your ground" law turns centuries of precedent on its head: basically, it makes wherever you are a "castle" that you are entitled to defend. This is a recipe for disaster, as we have seen. It relieves agressive yahoos of any responsibility to consider consequences of actions and absolutely sets up the conditions for the infamous "wild-west style shootout" that gun critics always predict will happen, but never has--so far.

To give anyone the right to use force to "defend" a piece of street is totally wrong and the height of legislative irresponsibility. I would call upon the legislatures of the states that have enacted these foolish laws to repeal them at once.

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