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Ed Ross | Monday, April 2, 2012

The Treyvon Martin case has become a media sensation. It has all the necessary elements—tragedy, race, anticipated court-room drama, politics, exploitation, and a gun. We won’t know how it will turn out until the authorities in Florida complete their investigation; however it turns out, it’s become a rallying cry against stand-your-ground laws—are they a bridge too far?

Because voters that oppose gun control far outnumber those that support it and the United States Supreme Court has consistently upheld the more conservative interpretation of the Second Amendment, gun control hasn’t been a winning issue for politicians. These days, few people running for the U.S. Congress or the White House make it an issue.

President Obama’s actions in office are another matter. The rationale behind the “Fast and Furious” program—make gunrunning into Mexico a problem that had to be controlled—and restrictions his administration has placed on the import of firearms were efforts to advance the gun-control agenda.

Fear that President Obama intends to further pursue gun control has led to a phenomenal rise in gun sales in the United States and applications for concealed-carry permits.

Citizens of every state except Illinois and the District of Columbia now can obtain a concealed-carry permit, up from 34 States in 1986. A principal reason for this trend is states that allow concealed carry have lower violence and crime rates than those that don't.

Washington, D.C. and Chicago are high-violence, high-crime cities because people there can’t protect themselves from criminals.

According to statistics collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control, Americans are far less likely to be killed with a firearm today than they were when it was much more difficult to obtain a concealed-weapon permit. Gun related homicides in the United States today are 28 percent lower than they were in the 1980s. 

Prescription drugs accidentally kill more people than guns. Texting while driving, DUIs, swimming pools and fireworks account for more deaths annually than guns. Industrial nations that have banned guns except for hunting are experiencing an increase in violence and crime.

Stand-your-ground laws, however, are not as easy to defend as the right to own and carry a firearm as a deterrent to crime. They allow a person who has a reasonable belief that someone poses an imminent threat of death or grave bodily harm to use deadly force in self-defense without an obligation to retreat first. Opponents of these laws argue they are ripe for abuse and increase, rather than decrease, gun violence and the killing of innocent unarmed people.

According to CBS Miami, Florida’s law, for example, has resulted in the tripling of self-defense claims, with all but one of those killed unarmed. The shooter can claim he or she felt threatened, and in most cases the only witness is dead. Critics point out that the Florida law has been used to excuse neighborhood brawls, bar fights, road rage, and street-gang violence.

As reported in the New York Times, before passage of the law, “Miami police chief John F. Timoney called the law unnecessary and dangerous in that ‘[w]hether it's trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn't want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you're encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn't be used.’”

Florida state representative Dennis Baxley, an author of the Florida law, notes that crime rates in the state dropped significantly between 2005, when the law was passed, and 2012. However, crime rates had been continuously falling since 2000. Florida passed its concealed-carry law in 1987; and you can argue that it and other factors did more to influence reduced crime rates than the stand-your-ground law.

The Treyvon Martin shooting has given liberal opinion writers and gun control advocates a platform to call for the repeal of all stand-your-ground laws calling them redundant and unnecessary. Liberal interest groups now will step up their efforts to put pressure on state government officials and legislatures to repeal or dramatically limit them.

Conservatives and those that strictly interpret the Second Amendment steadfastly will oppose such efforts. They see any infringement of their rights to own, carry, and use a firearm in self-defense as a slippery slope to abrogating these rights entirely.

I don’t support the repeal of stand-your-ground laws, but legislators must write them so as not to make abusing them too easy or tie prosecutor’s hands.

Police officers that shoot unarmed people have a high burden of proof to demonstrate that they felt their life was threatened. Any citizen who shoots an unarmed person should have to convince a coroner’s inquest or a grand that they believed their life was threatened.

As with concealed-carry laws it’s important that advocates for stand-your-ground laws can demonstrate with hard statistics—that don’t currently exist—that they protect innocent lives rather than resulting in more innocent deaths. Otherwise, efforts to block them where they haven’t been enacted and repeal them where they have will succeed.

Whether George Zimmerman is ultimately tried and found guilty, tried and acquitted, or never tried at all, the Trayvon Martin shooting and others like it are sure to exacerbate the stand-your-ground law controversy.

The best way to ensure Americans not only have the right to bear arms but to use them in self-defense is to ensure that stand-your-ground laws aren’t a license to kill indiscriminately.


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Related Links

Biden: Treyvon Martin's Death Should Spark Gun Law Debate

Stand-Your-Ground Law

Concealed Carry in the United States

U.S. Most Armed Country with 90 Guns per 100 People

Eugene Robinson: Repeal the 'Sand Your Ground' Law

National Association for Legal Gun Defense Offers $10,000 for George Zimmerman Legal Defense





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