Why Stand Your Ground Laws Are Bad for States Essay

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Stand Your Ground Laws: A Cry for Repeal



Stand Your Ground Laws: A Cry for Repeal

Academic and Professional Writing for Graduate Students (LS526-01)

The "Stand Your Ground Law" is one of the most controversial laws in recent years and has gained notoriety due to its enactment in thirty-three states so far. Advocates of the law claim that it reduces the threat of violence in society, but the statistics prove otherwise as research shows that the law actually inflames race-based violence (Purdie-Vaughn, Williams, 2015). As such there are several states that have either taken a wary view of the law and have decided to steer clear of it, or have raised issue(s) with enactment of the law while considering it. It is because of this scrutiny the law has been misunderstood by some people, abused by others, and just manipulated and disguised as self-defense by the rest.

While the southern most states (i.e., Alabama, Florida, and Georgia) have claimed a decrease in crime due to the enactment of the "Stand Your Ground Law," the law should be repealed because it is a less effective means of preventing violence and crime than the Duty to Retreat Laws of other states (Lave, 2013). The Stand Your Ground doctrine essentially encourages individuals to resort to a violent "showdown" even if there is the option of de-escalating the situation by retreating to a safe space. It promotes a posture of "self-defense" that is actually more akin to "aggression" judging by the number of cases in which the law has been used as a defense (Rocio, 2014; McClellan, Tekin, 2012). It also puts more civilians at risk and endangers far more lives precisely because of its aggressive nature. Thus, this paper will show why the Stand Your Ground laws should be repealed.

Stand Your Ground: A Cry for Repeal

Many states have a "Duty to Retreat" clause written into their Criminal Code. New Hampshire, for instance, holds that while a person is justified in using physical force in self-defense "a person is not justified in using deadly force ... if he or she knows that he or she and the third person can, with complete safety, (a) retreat from the encounter ... " (New Hampshire Criminal Code, Section 627:4). New Hampshire's law is similar to other New England states and was similar to many southern states' laws until the latter changed them in favor of the Stand Your Ground law. However, the Stand Your Ground law is not an effective deterrent: on the contrary, it is an effective way to increase violence. Lave (2013) gives several examples of how this law promotes aggressive behavior that can lead to the use of deadly (and unnecessary) force: for instance, there is the case of 61-year-old Joe Horn who shot to death two escaping burglars, neither of whom had posed a threat to his physical person nor "had a prior record for any crime of violence" (Lave, 2013, p. 829). Ordinarily, Horn, having shot them in the back as they fled, "would be guilty of murder" -- but in Texas, which had recently passed a Castle Doctrine modeled on Florida's Stand Your Ground law, Horn was never even indicted (Lave, 2013, p. 829). Essentially, Texas asserted that Horn had the right to be judge, jury and executioner of the two men simply because they had trespassed on his property and stolen something that had belonged to him. In Texas, the philosophy of Stand Your Ground is quite clear: vengeance is no longer the Lord's, it belongs to anyone who feels he has been wronged. It is a "wilderness" mentality, a doctrine of the "old west" where law and order were maintained at the end of a barrel. Is this what the 21st century in America should look like?

Such an attitude or philosophical outlook is very dangerous in America and should be stopped. It goes against the basic tenet of the Golden Rule, which is to treat others as you would like to be treated, and it goes against the principles of the Christian ethos, which is to love your neighbor. Stand Your Ground is a "wild west" type of law that pits everyone against his neighbor in a possible "shoot-out at the O.K. Corral" type of situation. In Horn's case, the law gave him the incentive to kill and then looked the other way when reason should have dictated otherwise.

According to Jack Middleton, the co-chair of the American Bar Association's National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws, "We've heard nothing good about 'Stand Your Ground Laws'" (Middleton, 2014). Mr. Middleton went on to say, "In fact, the more you look at them, the more problems you find" (2014). With the American Bar Association creating a task force to review and analyze the law, alarm bells should sound, signifying that there is definitely a necessity for lawmakers to at least consider repealing the law. Instead of giving law-abiding citizens their right to bear arms and protect their property, the law serves to advocate a mentality that is anti-social, hostile, wanton and excessive. Allowing individuals to shoot first and ask questions later proves to provide them with a sense of security that the law will shield them with a solid alibi for their actions. As quoted by another task force member, "Instead of encouraging peaceful resolution through the rule of law, stand-your-ground laws encourage violent actions" (Vince, n.d.).

When discussing the "Stand Your Ground Law" and what is considered justifiable force, one can turn to the Florida statute, which has laid the foundation for other states to follow suit:

"(1) A person is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other's imminent use of unlawful force. A person who uses or threatens to use force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force.

(2) A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be (Title XLVI, Chapter 776, Justifiable Use of Force)."

This is essentially the same wording from state to state where Stand Your Ground laws have been passed. For example, in Alabama, the state law reads: "A person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself ... and he or she may use a degree of force which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary for the purpose" (Alabama Criminal Code, Section 13A-3-23). South Carolina's Stand Your Ground law is similarly worded, stating that "there is no duty to retreat if (1) the person is in a place where he has a right to be, including the person's place of business ... " and includes the provision that "authorizes the lawful use of deadly force under certain circumstances against an intruder or attacker in a person's dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle" in which the person feels threatened (Protection of Persons and Property Act, 2006). Compared to the Duty to Retreat law, for example of New York, which reads that one "may not use deadly physical force if he or she knows that with complete personal safety, to oneself and others he or she may avoid the necessity of so doing by retreating" (New York State Law, Article 35 -- NY Penal Law). The Duty to Retreat is clearly used to curtail violence and the law does not flagrantly set out to promote violent behavior, as compared to the southern states' Stand Your Ground clauses.

The enactment of the Stand Your Ground law takes the criminality out of the event if the person defending himself was justified in doing so. Based as it is on the perception of the "person" who is justified in using force, the law creates a blurred, subjective realm in which perceptions can create realities, even if the reality contained absolutely no threat of violence to begin with. If the force used was reasonable and proportionate to the perceived threat, or was in response to an imminent threat, the necessity of self-defense outweighs the duty to retreat, according to the Stand Your Ground law. The problem is that it is describing a "perceived threat" and how…

Sources Used in Document:


Alabama Criminal Code, Section 13A-3-23. Retrieved from http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/alcode/13A/3/2/13A-3-23

Campbell, R. C. (2014). Unlawful/Criminal Activity: The Ill-Defined and Inadequate Provision

for a "Stand Your Ground" Defense. Barry Law Review, 20(1): 3-21.

Cook, R. (2012). The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 'Stand Your Ground Law' in Effect in Georgia More Than 100 Years. Retrieved: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/stand-your-ground-law-in-effect-in-georgia-more-th/nQSgW/

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