Columns

The 'Stand Your Ground' law

Jason McKay

Sunday, August 19, 2018

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A recent tragedy in Florida, USA, in July was caught on video at a 7-Eleven store. The dispute centred on a man parking in a handicapped spot and a subsequent fight that occurred with a man objecting to him doing so. The actual cycle of events were that the driver of the car shoved the other man to the ground and the assaulted party shot and killed him.

The result, oddly enough, was that no criminal charges were laid against the shooter by the sheriff's office because it was viewed as a justifiable action under the 'Stand Your Ground' law. This was overturned by the district attorney's office, but the first decision by the sheriff will bring doubt to the prosecution's case and will result in an acquittal in the long run.

Now, despite being a firm believer in the right to stand your ground and defend yourself, I do not agree that this law should be applied here. Standing your ground cannot be a justification to use deadly force as a first alternative. Standing your ground doesn't mean you have to kill or that the option is a casual consideration.

Deadly force is never to be a applied as a first choice where other options exist.

In this case, although the shooter was shoved to the ground, the man was not advancing towards him, so the gun could have been drawn, pointed, and a verbal warning issued.

At that point, decisions could be made if any hostile or threatening action was taken and these decisions could include deadly force. However, this was clearly a knee-jerk reaction to being hit.

It was never the intention of the creators of the legislation to use the law this way, but does the wording make this clear?

It is ambiguous, and this tragedy shows the need for modification so that never again can it be used as an excuse for anger-driven violence.

To be fair, however, it must be highlighted that the first person to introduce violence in this incident was the man who shoved the other man to the ground. He has to bear some part of the blame. You just can't assault someone because you're angry and the opponent is smaller.

Would he have done so if it was a wrestler who was arguing with him?

I always ask men who hit women when provoked if they would do so if Cornwall “Bigga” Ford had provoked them?

The invention by Samuel Colt of handguns brought an end to the superiority of the bigger guy. Guns are an equaliser, and besides that it is cowardly and plain wrong to hit someone because you perceive them weaker. He was wrong to do so.

But that doesn't warrant killing him.

This was not the first time this law has come to centre in a dispute over its use. The Trayvon Martin shooting incident and subsequent death was all about this law. This was a tragedy at any level because so many wrong things were done by Zimmerman.

He obviously passed the point of being able to identify suspicious persons and had moved up to hating persons he viewed as suspicious. This affected his ability to follow specific instructions given by a person in authority to the point where he simply ignored the instruction of the 911 operator not to engage the suspicious person.

His action of trying to restrain young Martin led to him getting a proper beating, and he used his firearm to defend himself. At this point Zimmerman was squarely within guidelines of self-defence because once he establishes that he is in fear of the loss of the weapon, which may be used to harm him, he can legally use it.

The issue here, however, is that his decision to challenge Martin did not fall within the remit of 'Stand Your Ground'. Martin presented no threat to him and was not trespassing. Zimmerman is not a policeman and therefore has no right to restrain anyone, not even under citizens' arrest guidelines would this detention be legal. Actually, even a policeman needs probable cause to detain someone, and none existed.

The right to stand your ground is a right that should be given to every citizen on this planet. No one should be told they have an obligation to retreat (tactically or otherwise). This, however, is not a carte blanche licence to kill once provoked.

Many lessons were learnt on that night in the parking lot. First one is that the United States needs to learn from Jamaica about the vetting process needed to get a licence to carry a firearm. Even though idiots get through the cracks here, at least we have a wall that they have to find the crack in.

Secondly, laws need constant modification if they are to serve ever-changing environments.

Thirdly, never escalate an incident to violence because you are angry or there is a perception of weakness in your opponent.

A good man died in that car park, a family man, and he died in front of his family. This is a tragedy.

A greater tragedy is if this happens again because of bureaucracy and inaction by lawmakers.

Let the right to defend yourself and your family be deployed against the animals who deserve it and not utilised against persons whom, under other circumstances, you would break bread with.

Jason McKay is a criminologist. Send feedback to: jasonamckay@gmail.com

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