Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is the Backlash Sufficient for the Repeal of Stand Your Ground Laws?

For a long time the NRA has been sufficiently organized to push through legislation that gives a disproportionate balance in favor of anyone using a firearm.  That has included back door deals supported by ALEC using the bought-and-paid for services of conservative legislators to benefit the gun industry outside the view of the legislative process.

There was never any need for a stand your ground law; that already existed under prior U.S. and state law.  Nor were there rampant instances of people being convicted and jailed for justifiable homicide or self defense shootings.  In the larger context, crime and violence has been on a steady decline.

But the opposition to those efforts was less organized, and less funded by big money engaging in unregistered lobbying by ALEC and the NRA.
That lack of organization on the opposition side may have suddenly changed, putting the future of those laws in question.  The massive turnouts of support for the family of Trayvon Martin coming at the same time as growing awareness of the activities of the NRA and ALEC signals an effective push-back.

The push for more lax gun permits and the push which promotes people going armed everywhere has resulted in increased homicide rates in those states.  The claim that there would be blood in the streets appears to have happened as defined by that increase.  The increase in so-called justifiable homicides could as objectively be called an increase in avoidable homicides and unnecessary homicides.  And exactly as law enforcement warned when they objected to the loosening of carry restrictions on firearms and when they have opposed these stand your ground laws, there has been an increase in law enforcement deaths by firearms and injuries as well.

We are NOT safer with more guns in our public places, and we are not safer in our homes either.  What we have is a de facto vigilanteism, that in practice interferes with law enforcement apprehending people for crimes, or possible crimes, and which circumvents due process.  It allows any individual with a gun to be judge, jury, and prosecutor, and too often executioner, acting not with the deliberation and lack of emotion of a court system, and acting without the use of law for the victim of the shooting.  That deprives the victims of stand your ground laws of their legal rights to fair due process.  It makes the execution of justice a matter of who has a weapon, not a process of law that gives proper legal protection to all parties.  It is unjust.
Classic examples of this go well beyond the shooting of Trayvon Martin.  There was shooting by Joe Horn in Texas, or the shooting of Bo Morrison in Slinger Wisconsin, or a long list of other shootings where citizens acted with deadly force, force that would not be allowed by police, people acting on a false assumption that the people they encountered were intending harm.  These include the shootings of unarmed victims, they include shooting people in the back who are attempting to leave. The list even includes the shooting of a man in the back through a locked door.  They include the shooting of someone who accidentally tried to enter the wrong house late at night in a housing development composed of identical buildings, where a man was one street over from his own address.
While there are occasional legitimate shootings in self defense the premise that we should be treating as normal and reasonable that everyone or nearly everyone can go armed and use their own discretion to end the life of other people, using a standard for that justification that is less stringent that what we permit police, is wrong.  We need to remove and repudiate the assumption that when a person is unauthorized that they are there to do a person harm.  We need to remove and repudiate that there can be deadly force because the person with the gun has an emotion rather than an objective basis for that decision.  We need to remove the presence of guns in our public places except by law enforcement and the relatively few individuals who have an objective need to be armed, such as security for banks and armored cars, people who transport cash from businesses, or people who have an objective need as demonstrated to a judge or law enforcement that they are in specific danger from a clear threat - as in stalking victims where police simply cannot anticipate or adequately protect.
I agree with Bill Cosby in his recent interview for the Washington times with Deborah Simmons when he noted:
“The gun.”
Those two simple words flowed easily from the mouth of social commentator Bill Cosby during an exclusive interview Friday regarding the Trayvon Martin case, arguably the most high-profile, citizen-on-citizen U.S. slaying facing the Obama administration.
Trayvon was killed Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who told police that a “confrontation” with the unarmed 17-year-old led him to shoot in self-defense.
Mr. Cosby, a Navy veteran, said “the gun” empowered Mr. Zimmerman, whose actions have stirred a firestorm of debate, protests and remarks from President Obama.
“We’ve got to get the gun out of the hands of people who are supposed to be on neighborhood watch,” said Mr. Cosby, whose remarks were the first he has made publicly about the case.
“Without a gun, I don’t see Mr. Zimmerman approaching Trayvon by himself,” Mr. Cosby explained. “The power-of-the-gun mentality had him unafraid to confront someone. Even police call for backup in similar situations.
“When you carry a gun, you mean to harm somebody, kill somebody,” he said.
It is not only that your intent is to use deadly force, it is not only that your attitude is more confrontational, it is also that your perceptions change in ways you are not aware.

Hold Gun: Move to Threat Level Orange

Violence prevention may be aided by psychological assessment of gun perception

Our perceptions of the world around us can guide our everyday behavior and reinforce our actions. Now, new knowledge of how we perceive guns could have implications for law enforcement and violence prevention.
New research suggests that those who are currently wielding a gun are more likely to believe that others are wielding a gun as well. This perception may help justify an increase in threatening behavior as well.
"Beliefs, expectations, and emotions can all influence an observer's ability to detect and to categorize objects as guns," says James Brockmole, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Psychology at Notre Dame.
Study subjects were given either a toy gun or a neutral object, like a foam ball. Then, they were shown images of people on a screen who were holding a gun or a neutral object.
The subjects were then asked to react to the images. For example, they might be asked to point their toy gun at the screen if they felt the person on screen had a gun.
The researchers found that those who were holding a toy gun were more likely to perceive that they had seen a gun on the screen.
The research team did five trials, changing the images on screen each time. Sometimes the people on screen were wearing ski masks - they also changed the races of the people on screen. Those who were holding a toy gun remained more likely to see a gun.
"One reason we supposed that wielding a firearm might influence object categorization stems from previous research in this area which argues that people perceive the spatial properties of their surrounding environment in terms of their ability to perform an intended action," says Brockmole.
The researchers believe that deeper knowledge of how we perceive threats could have implications for law enforcement and public safety, aiding in violence prevention.
The study will appear in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Perception and Performance.
I've known too many people in my life who did not have sound judgment but who owned and sometimes carried firearms.  Those people were a hazard to those around them.
I don't think George Zimmerman hated all black people, but I do believe from the information available so far, that he was wrongly suspicious and fearful of black men, making assumptions about them as criminals, that he held a racist stereotype about young black males as being more likely to be criminals.  I also believe that as Bill Cosby noted, carrying the gun he had with him made him more predisposed to act in a confrontational manner, and that it made him more predisposed to see other people as a threat than if he were not carrying a gun.  The greater willingness to engage in confrontation even when advised not to do so by police, the negative stereotype, the altered perception of a threat were more likely subconscious and not something of which he was self-aware.
But that combination appears to be what resulted in the death of an unarmed black teenager who was not acting suspiciously - he belonged where he was;  was not on drugs or drunk, despite the inaccurate assumption by Zimmerman in his 911 call; and he was not armed or dangerous.  Zimmerman pursued him, which is threatening behavior towards Trayvon Martin; Zimmerman did not apparently at any point identify himself as a resident, as a member of the neighborhood watch, pr explain himself.  He did not wait as directed for police who were only a minute or two away. 
If Trayvon Martin acted in self defense in confronting Martin, he was justified in doing so, because it was Zimmerman who was behaving in a threatening manner.  Trayvon Martin had no moral or legal duty to account to George Zimmerman for what he was doing.  Trayvon Martin had EVERY right to go about his business unmolested and unimpeded.
In the course of blogging, I've seen the gun nuts make assertions that criminals have no rights, that they forfeit rights when they do something wrong.  That is not true, and part of what makes a society founded in law is precisely that it guarantees rights such as the right of habeus corpus and the right against self-incrimination.  Worse, I have seen gun nuts who believe that people lose their basic right to be viewed as human beings when they commit a crime; that is also not true.  A fundamental basis for having law, and of our constitution, is that the consequences must be appropriate to the illegal action.  The way that Stand Your Ground laws work is not proportional when someone who is running away from illegal drinking at a loud party is shot for trespassing; that person was not a threat to life or property, and dying for the very low level of the offenses he committed was not appropriate.
A recent commenter here, KR, chastised me for not giving George Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt, the presumption of innocence.  What KR does not acknowledge is that there was no benefit of the doubt, no presumption of innocence accorded Trayvon Martin in the course of events and that lack of benefit of the doubt, that failure to give him the presumption of innocence when George Zimmerman had his confrontation is the problem.  I have advocated, as many have, that George Zimmerman be arrested and tried.  At no point did I advocate that he not exercise every legal right or enjoy every possible legal protection.  I did consistently point out the inconsistencies with what Zimmerman said, and what he did, and the evidence to the contrary.  THAT was the basis on which I advocated for arrest and due process --- something George Zimmerman and the Stand Your Ground laws and the lax gun carry laws have deprived Trayvon Martin of enjoying.
We do not have due process if only the shooters enjoy legal protection or a disproportionate legal protection.  We do not have a lawful society if everyone is armed and shoots someone they believe might be dangerous when they are not, or who pursues someone they think might be committing a crime, and is excused or gets away with that without accountability.  That goes beyond the boundary of reasonable or lawful.
As with the repeal of prohibition because it produced horrible results very different from the stated purpose, it is time to repeal stand your ground laws, and to enact a federal law that greatly restricts who can carry and where, consistent with the Heller SCOTUS decision which limited that right to a person's home.  Where there was insufficient organization for that pushback before, there clearly appears to be an organized desire on a broad grassroots level to do so now.
It is time for Stand Your Ground - or more aptly "Stand Someone Else's Ground" to go; it is time for the broader carry laws to go too.  We are a civilized society based in law; this undermines that, this endangers our way of life, these laws as they exist now are contrary to our core values and the values in the  Constitution.


  1. Zimmerman is a man, so why the 'burn her' comment?

    I wanted him arrested, and apparently the prosecutor who DOES know all the facts seems to support my position.

    I would have been contented with manslaughter; guess all those facts were even more damning than it originally appeared.

    I write opinion identified as opinion and raising questions as much as making statements.

    So.....why aren't you standing up for Trayvon Martin's right to a presumption of innocence?

    If you expect credence for one position, you have to give it to Trayvon Martin.

    He shouldn't be dead, and Zimmerman shouldn't have been armed or prusued him.

  2. ROFL, KR.

    So when are YOU going to address the right of Trayvon Martin to be presumed innocent?

    crickets ............more crickets.........and more crickets

    Because reportedly, Trayvon Martin passed a tox screening that showed he had neither drugs or alcohol in his system, contrary to the assertion by Zimmerman. What presumption of innocence there? What presumption of innocence while simply walking home with iced tea and skittles?

    WHAT PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE for this victim and for many other victims of the Shoot First laws?

  3. Do you give Trayvon Martin the benefit of the doubt?

    Do you see any indication that George Zimmerman did? I don't, nor apparently does the prosecuting attorney who DOES have all those facts.

    I'm not claiming I know all the facts. I'm claiming that Trayvon Martin was not given the benefit of the doubt or a presumption of innocence.

    I have yet to hear you address that topic. Do YOU care that Trayvon was not given the benefit of the doubt when pursued by George Zimmerman? He made the statement that Martin was on drugs or drunk - he wasn't. He claimed he was acting suspiciously; he wasn't, he was on his way home, minding his own business.

    Zimmerman claims he was the one yelling for help, but forensic experts - 2 of the top ones in the field using different methods of determination - assert he was not.

    I have no pitchfork, I have a keyboard. I make no claims to have all the facts, I make the assertion that Zimmerman should be held accountable in court for this killing.

    What part of that do you disagree with, given the charges filed?

    And per the paragraph I address to YOU specifically, along with Mitch - and Pen - would you still support Stand Your Ground laws if it was your son shot by a vigilante lie Zimmerman, after being pursued without you son doing anything wrong?

  4. I have no reason to question Martin's school claiming he was NOT innocent and was suspended because he was guilty.

    How do you know Martin was on his way back to Miami?

    Unless you can prove you received this information directly from the special prosecutor... your pitchfork doesn't scare me.

  5. KR, so far, you're only interested in giving the benefit of the doubt to Zimmerman, despite the indications that is not well placed.

    That goes to the core of what is wrong with the shoot first laws - it gives no benefit of the doubt, no presumption of innocence until PROVEN guilty in a court of law, to the victims who are shot.

    Martin was not on his way back to Miami, he was on his way back to where his father lived, after going to the store.

    Martin's school apparently never factually determined he had an 'empty' bag that had marijuana in it. If someone takes the drastic action of suspension they should verify the basis for it. The school admits they didn't, that they guessed. But it doesn't matter. Martin apparently passed the full toxicology screening showing no drugs in his system on autopsy.

    Martin is an individual, but it is a FACT that individuals in that demographic are disciplined MORE - much more - than individuals who are not in that same demographic. That is not proof, but it is still a reasonable basis for skepticism, a more reasonable basis to believe the suspension was unfair and disproportionate than anything you have offered.

    But even if Trayvon Martin did make a kid sort of mistake - so what? That has nothing to do with what happened to him, it does not in any way shape or form justify or excuse George Martin killing him. It is an irrelevant distraction to those events.

    You claim YOU support giving the benefit of the doubt - where is the benefit of the doubt until proof exists, for Martin.

  6. You keep mentioning pitchforks KR - no pitchforks here. Nor do I have any reason to wish to 'scare' you. I don't think any of us has a reason to be afraid of taking a good hard look at facts.

    But you have asserted you believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt - please explain where YOU are giving the benefit of the doubt to Trayvon Martin in that case, or where and how you support proof and fact in your assertions.

    It looks like you are using that same old right wing double standard again. And one of those double standards is to have one set of rules for anyone who has a gun, regardless of how badly they behave, and another for any victim, no matter how undeserving of their poor treatment.

    Without fear, try explaining the contradictions in your statements, please.