The shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, brought international attention to Florida’s now-infamous Stand Your Ground law. The statute provides legal immunity to citizens who shoot and kill potential assailants who “threaten” them or their property.
Coitus with a hedgehog is explicitly banned in Florida, while convicted violent felons and child molesters are allowed to carry concealed firearms.
It’s easy to dismiss (as many did in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting) Stand Your Ground as an extreme but isolated instance of Florida’s legal insanity. No shortage of websites are devoted to the lunacy of Florida’s laws. Coitus with a hedgehog is explicitly banned, for instance, while convicted violent felons and child molesters are allowed to carry concealed firearms.
But Florida, as wacky as its laws may be, isn’t an isolated bastion of “shoot first and ask questions later” legislation. Stand Your Ground laws are a national issue. Their impact is continuing to evolve and shape our communities.
Here are the five things every presumably levelheaded U.S. resident absolutely needs to know about Stand Your Ground:
1) It Isn’t Just a Florida Law: As Mother Jones recently detailed in a startling infographic, Stand Your Ground laws similar to Florida’s have spread all over the country. Since Florida’s law was enacted in 2005, Stand Your Ground has been enacted in 22 other states—most recently Wisconsin, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Michigan. The laws are largely uniform, crafted with input from national National Rifle Association (NRA) policy experts, and distributed through local political channels.
2) As the Law Spreads, It Gets More Extreme: Just this week, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels authorized a revision to the state’s 2006 Stand Your Ground law that allows property owners to defend themselves against “unlawful intrusion” by public officials—including police officers and firemen. In other words, the Indiana legislature may have just given its citizens a license to kill cops. “It’s just a recipe for disaster,” Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police President Tim Downs told Bloomberg News. “It just puts a bounty on our heads.” If Downs’s objections sound hyperbolic, consider that in Florida, gang members have successfully used Stand Your Ground to escape murder charges in the shootings of rival gang members.
3) Trayvon Martin Isn’t the Only Controversial SYG Case: This past March, a Slinger, Wisconsin, homeowner shot and killed an unarmed 20-year-old black partygoer named Bo Morrison. Morrison was drinking at an underage party when local police came to break up the affair. Fearing he’d be busted, Morrison took off and drunkenly stumbled onto a neighbor’s porch—where he was shot to death by the homeowner. No charges were filed. Governor Scott Walker’s recently signed “Intruder’s Bill” presumes that any killing perpetrated against a trespasser on private property is justified. Morrison’s mother told the local press her son had been “executed.”
4) Stand Your Ground May Be Coming to A Neighborhood Near You: Conservative states such as Florida aren’t the only ones turning to Stand Your Ground. Five states across the country are currently debating Stand Your Ground-type laws, including three notorious bastions of liberalism. Massachusetts and Iowa both have Stand Your Ground laws working in their state senates; New York has a bill stalled in its House of Reps. Alaska and Nebraska are also debating bills in their state legislatures.
5) There’s a Way to Help Fight It: A few online petitions have been floated to repeal and ban all Stand Your Ground laws across America, but these are fledgling efforts. If the petitions do ultimately succeed, it will take years of fighting.
The End Racial Profiling Act, on the other hand, is much further along in the legislative process.
Though the End Racial Profiling Act won’t reverse the legality of citizens blasting other citizens they feel threatened by, it does propose to define and end the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement officers.
The conflict that left Trayvon Martin dead began with Martin’s shooter George Zimmerman trailing the African-American Martin because he looked “suspicious.” Setting a precedent for the illegality of such actions could go a long way toward preventing similar incidents.
It’s certainly not a solution to the dangers presented by Stand Your Ground, but it’s a start.
Do you feel more or less secure knowing that Americans have the right to shoot intruders? Talk it out in COMMENTS.
Matthew Fleischer is a former LA Weekly staff writer and an award-winning social justice reporter in Los Angeles. Email Matt