One can hardly glance at the news these days without hearing about the “Castle Doctrine,” also known as the “Stand Your Ground Act.”
Last month in Sanford, Fla., Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, was shot in the chest by 28-year-old George Zimmerman while walking home after purchasing snacks. Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime.
Upon seeing Martin, Zimmerman called 911 and reported a suspicious teenager. Zimmerman pursued a fleeing Martin and was told to stop the chase by a 911 operator. He chose to take the law into his own hands instead. Neighbors who heard the gunshot reported Martin screaming for help moments before the gun was fired.
Adopted in 2005, the “Stand Your Ground” law enables citizens to use deadly force in the face of a threat without first attempting to retreat. Under its ruling, anyone who feels threatened is justified to shoot first and ask questions later.
Since the law was enacted, “justifiable homicide” rates have nearly tripled in Florida.
Several states have adopted similar policies, but Martin’s murder has lawmakers questioning the law and considering its repeal.
While Zimmerman may have a hard time justifying his actions in a trial, the law that allowed his release in the first place should be repealed.
The law not only promotes legal murder for those who do not initiate conflicts, but it encourages vigilantism in the streets of Florida. Those with a concealed weapons permit are simply asked to provide proof that they acted in self-defense and nothing more.
A threatening look or insult can be used as a justifiable reason in court for homicide as long as the offender can prove they felt their life was threatened.
This law encourages overreaction. If someone wishes to clear the streets of crime or is part of a neighborhood watch, the slightest sign of a weapon or threatening object can be used as justification to “clean up their streets.”
A teenager with a baseball bat becomes a threat in the eyes of the overly paranoid. In Zimmerman’s case, a child wearing a hooded sweatshirt and with snacks in hand is enough of a threat to justify murder in hopes of protecting a neighborhood.
So what was the “Stand Your Ground” law meant to protect? In cases of breaking and entering, this law offers a proactive response in defense of one’s home. When someone pulls a weapon with the intent of murder, this law allows them to react in their own best interest as opposed to fleeing with their back to a loaded gun.
But the positive benefits this law offers are far outweighed by the negative.
As Martin’s parents seek to bring Zimmerman to justice, their case brings a new light upon the “Stand Your Ground” law.
Perhaps the law that currently defends men such as Zimmerman will no longer be used to defend another “justifiable” homicide.