Florida’s Stand Your Ground law

I’ve been thinking a lot about Florida’s Stand Your Ground law not just with regard to George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin but also how that law could be made to work generally, how it is used practically, and how it is different from self-defense laws in other states.

Last point first. In most other states, you do have the right to kill someone in self-defense but if you are able to flee, you must flee. Some states have taken a bolder position and hold that there is no duty to flee in your own home. Florida takes it further and lets people strike preemptively, which creates a lot of leeway.

Obviously the present case with George Zimmerman involves a man stalking a teenager who weighed over 100 lbs less than he did and who never went near him, which strains even the most sympathetic construction of self-defense. I seriously doubt Zimmerman would be out walking around if he had shot a seventeen year old white girl, no matter what she was up to.

Since the law here gives such a broad definition for self-defense, I started thinking about situations where defending yourself with deadly force when someone had merely shown up in your general vicinity, and I had a hard time getting my mind around this at first until I realized I should think about the dangers of Florida:

The Klan. If the Klan showed up at your house in their little matching outfits, I think you might reasonably interpret this as a threat to your life.

Florida anti-abortion terrorists. Anti-choice terrorists have murdered four doctors since about 1993, two of them, Dr. David Gunn and Dr. John Britton, in Florida, as well as various clinic staff, other attempts on people’s lives including both clinic staff and family members, clinic bombings, threats and other scares. While most people who think that god has called them to harass women on the sidewalk are merely annoying idiots, enough of them have been dangerous that I think Florida’s Stand Your Ground law could reasonably describe this as a self-defense situation, especially with the number of websites up for the purposes of stalking and intimidating clinic employees as well as the Wanted posters Operation Rescue is known for.

And then I thought a little more about dangers that were unfortunately more universal, like better protections for people in abusive situations, domestic abuse victims or kids whose parents are abusive, people being sexually harassed or bullied at work or at school.

I also thought more abstractly about whether it would be self-defense to kill a politician who was implementing policy that was directly harmful to you, such as cutting medicaid when you had no other way to afford medication that you need to stay alive.

Then I considered who in these situations is more likely to have and carry a gun, and to be able to get the police and the courts on their side, and I could only conclude that this law is not about self-defense for the general public but about the rights of people with relative privilege to dominate the public sphere.


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