Welcome to Jercol's Back to the Basics. This is where I will post useful information, tips, and gear reviews about what I learn about Outdoor Survival, Activities, and Disaster Preparation. My only goal is to be informative, realistic, and at least a little entertaining.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Stand Your Ground Laws

First off, sorry it's been so long, life just gets in the way sometimes.

Anyway, the news has just been hammering on this new "thug music" trial in Florida.  Now, it's just about impossible to find out the "facts" of this case without getting a huge helping of spin, which direction depends on which news source you go to.  Much like the Trayvon Martin case, there is so much emotion and passion on the different sides that it's hard for anyone outside the situation to get facts without getting all of the extras.  That's why I'm not going to go into the specifics of these cases, I don't have all of the facts of these cases and I wasn't there, so I can't say one thing or the other about guilt or justification.  That's not my place.

Both of these situations are obviously tragic, whenever anyone dies violently it's tragic.  All of the families involved have my deepest sympathies, let there be no doubt about that.

The topic that I would like to talk about, that keeps being brought up, are Florida's "Stand your ground" laws.

Now, pretty much every state has some clause for situations where a person defends themselves.  If you are in fear of your life you have the legal right to defend yourself, of that there is no real question.  The difference in Florida (and many other states with these laws) is that in public you are not required to flee the situation or attempt to defuse it before responding defending yourself (in these cases with firearms).  That is the only distinction between other state's self defense laws and the laws in the states with "Stand your ground".

Now, in traditional self defense cases if the victim shoots the perpetrator there is a burden of evidence on the victim.  They have to prove that they were scared for their life, they have to prove they tried to defuse the situation or flee, and that there was no other way to avoid the shooting.  If the victim cannot prove those things they will most likely be indicted on criminal charges.  In fact, in most states it's standard procedure for the shooter to be taken into custody until all the questions are answered and it's decided whether the state wants to file charges.

The reason that I think the "Stand your ground" laws are a good idea is that it lightens the burden on the victim.  High profile cases aside, the victim has been through a harrowing, scary ordeal, and next thing they're being hand-cuffed and taken to the police station.  Suddenly the victim has become a suspect, all because they defended themselves.  With "Stand your ground" there is less liability on the part of the victim, less they have to prove before they can get back to their normal life.

With the media attention it's easy to find cases where these laws have come up under questionable circumstances, but what about the cases where it has been a good thing?  We don't hear about those.  They aren't controversial so they don't tend to hit the national networks.  And have you ever notice that these high profile cases tend to involve all males?  Let's do some pretending:

A woman is walking home alone at night, a big guy grabs her and wrestles her to the ground.  He starts punching her.  She pulls a gun and shoots him dead.  Would that classify as "Stand your ground"?  No, it would fall under the traditional self-defense laws.  She couldn't run because she was on the ground, it would probably be deemed justifiable.

So, what if he didn't knock her down?  What if she didn't kill him?

He grabs her, punches her.  She pulls a gun and shoots him in the leg, then runs away.  Now we're in a sketchy legal position.  Could she have de-escalated the situation somehow?  Could she have simply run away?  Was her response a justifiable use of force?  The state might charge her and the guy could probably sue her in civil court.  Unless this state has a "Stand your ground" law, which would limit the possibility of her being liable.

There's all these loud voices calling for repeat, but what would happen if "Stand your ground" was repealed?  There would still be plenty of cases of self defense in the states affected.  There would still be controversial cases in the national media.  There would still be families crying foul and shooters claiming self defense.  Repealing the law wouldn't change any of that, it would just make it easier to take legal action against shooters in otherwise justifiable cases.

So, if you ask me "Stand your ground" just clears up some of the gray area in the self defense situations.  It helps keep victims of crime from becoming victims of legal action afterwards.  Just like arguing "self defense" has been misused on occasion, the same can be said of "Stand your ground", that's why there is always a legal review afterwards which hopefully catches the perpetrators who tried to use the law for nefarious purpose.

Again, I'm not trying to make light of the legal cases around "Stand your ground" or the families involved, I'm just trying to give another perspective on a law that has received so much public attention over the last few years.

On a personal note, I'm not a particular fan of guns for personal defense especially in public, there's too many situations where a gun would just escalate the situation.  Of course, I'm also a big young guy, fairly fit, trained in martial arts, and pretty confident in my hands, so take all this with a grain of salt.  A gun can also be taken away from you, could get you in legal trouble, could misfire, could hit bystanders... to me there are just too many variables.  Which is why I would encourage anyone to think through carrying a firearm very thoroughly and receive proper training in gun handling and the laws in their area.  It's not hard to imagine that if Michael Dunn or George Zimmerman had used punches or pepper spray their legal situations would be entirely different.