The conventional wisdom among those in the mainstream media is that Stand Your Ground laws lead to violent encounters and are unnecessary. Many assume that Stand Your Ground is a new concept in the law- it most certainly is not. Even though laws specifically codifying the concept are new- the idea has been grounded in English common law and therefore American common law for centuries. Even progressive states such as California and Maine have some form of codified Stand Your Ground. Stand Your Ground laws were meant to restate and protect the right of common law self defense. The idea that we have the right to defend our most basic right- the right to our lives is not a new idea.
Prosecutors in many self defense cases were arguing that the accused could have retreated, or that if they did retreat that they could have retreated even further. Legislators wanted to give specific protection within the law for the right to defend yourself without the need to run from a lawfully occupied space. This does not mean that a person should not retreat- a reasonable person knows that if retreat is possible they should retreat. The intent was to protect a person from being second guessed in a sterile courtroom by aggressive prosecutors. There are still overwhelming incentives for a person to use great discretion and avoid violent self defense. Even if found not guilty the person who kills or maims in self defense risks severe civil penalties and social penalties. In many self defense schools and books the concept is: “if it is not worth dying for- it is not worth killing for.”
The Stand Your Ground laws also do not change any of the underlying requirements accepted for lawful self defense. We still have a duty to be innocent, reasonable and proportional in our defense of self. The law does not protect someone who instigates a confrontation, nor does it protect someone who did not have a reasonable fear of death or grave bodily injury.
In the aftermath of the Zimmerman acquittal the professional grievance industry has seized on Stand Your Ground and argued that the law is racially biased and hurts minorities- nothing could be further from the truth. John Lott has delved into the Tampa Bay Time database of Stand Your Ground defense cases and found several striking things. Blacks are 16.6% of the Florida population but they account for 31% of the Stand Your Ground defense cases. When black defendants are compared to white defendants they are acquitted 8 percent more frequently. Unfortunately more blacks are victims of violent crimes so it makes sense that they would use the defense more often.
Lott has also looked at states that have passed Stand Your Ground and similar Castle Doctrine laws and found that murder rates dropped by 9% and overall violent crime by 11% even after accounting for a range of other variables. Other researchers have disagreed with Lott’s conclusions and it is always hard to isolate one variable. If we look at Florida where the most controversy lies we can make some very clear assertions. Florida has made it easier to carry a gun and broadened the ability of justifiable self defense through Stand Your Ground. Violent crime has plummeted in Florida since 1992 from 1200 per 100,000 to 492 per 100,000. In fact the two greatest year over year percentage drops, 2010 and 2009 have been after Stand Your Ground was passed in 2005 and after the great recession began. Criminals in Florida are aware that many Floridians can now lawfully carry a gun and defend themselves and this does have an affect.
Most of us have no desire to be in a violent confrontation. You can never leave a violent encounter with more than what was brought in. The best you can hope for is to keep your health and life. Society is very hard on those who use violent force even when justifiable. The law has a duty to protect individual rights, above all those rights is the right to life. Stand Your Ground laws protect all of us from wrongful prosecution and punishment.
Most of us know Jackie Robinson, he was the first player to break Major League baseball’s color line in 1947. Few of us remember Branch Rickey, Rickey was the the GM for the Brooklyn Dodgers. As the story goes Rickey was eager to integrate the Dodgers and was considering Robinson.
Rickey was especially interested in making sure his eventual signee could withstand the inevitable racial abuse that would be directed at him. In a famous three-hour exchange on August 28, 1945, Rickey asked Robinson if he could face the racial animus without taking the bait and reacting angrily—a concern given Robinson’s prior arguments with law enforcement officials at PJC and in the military. Robinson was aghast: “Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Rickey replied that he needed a Negro player “with guts enough not to fight back.”After obtaining a commitment from Robinson to “turn the other cheek” to racial antagonism, Rickey agreed to sign him to a contract for $600 a month, equal to $7,651 today.
Robinson lived up to his promise and let his play do the talking. He won a world series, a league MVP and was consistently one of the best players in the league. He excelled at all aspects and is given credit by some for innovating modern base stealing. He did not respond to angry fans and showed tremendous grace under outright hatred and abuse. We would all have forgiven Robinson if he’d lost his temper more often and fought back- the fact that he had the courage not to makes him a transcendent figure.
I think Robinson understood the racial climate of the times, segregation had been a way of life for so long and many saw no reason to change it. Among these people were extremists, truly hateful racists that were never going to be reached; but the bulk of the population were not so extreme and could be moved to change. By seeing athletes like Robinson and Joe Louis achieve excellence and greatness despite tremendous adversity from racial animus it elevated the moral cause for action to stop segregation and racial discrimination. Robinson went on to be a successful executive, the first executive VP of a major American corporation (Chock full o’Nuts), he also founded a bank and worked as a broadcaster.
Robinson knew how and when to fight- refusing to participate in an old timers game in 1969 to protest the lack of minorities in management and front office staffs.
Today it is frequently the advocates who shout the loudest that get the most attention. Part of this is our media saturated society- part of it is fundraising and rallying the base. Do these advocates reach the moderates whose minds they might change? I propose that they do not and only make issues more polarizing.
Gay marriage is one example, most people do not hate or fear gays. Conversely most gays just want to be tolerated and have equal protection under the law. Unfortunately many of the advocates that get the most attention are extremists. Gay groups that demand blanket acceptance and are downright hostile to religious people calling them ignorant or hateful. On the other sides fringe groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church or other hateful bigots get attention. Moderates are unlikely to change their minds and only become stronger in their views when they are called names and made to feel stupid, ignorant or hateful. You cannot fight hate with hate.
My friend- Adam, a gay man wrote a heartfelt letter to his mother explaining his feelings about her and his faiths and why he thought gays should be able to marry. He didn’t name call and he was respectful of her feelings while explaining his own. He gave her space to change her mind without pressure or ultimatums. He could have pointed out hypocrisies in her life or used stronger rhetoric that might have been more satisfying for a man who has faced quite a bit of adversity for his sexuality.
American’s opinions regarding gay marriage have evolved dramatically to the point where a slight majority now favors it in most polls conducted. Twenty years ago many gays were closeted and being gay was misunderstood by many Americans who didn’t even think they knew a homosexual. Over time gays have emerged, most of them seeking only tolerance in their communities. More Americans know and see gay couples and even families with children. They go to the same schools and in some case the same churches and temples. They live on the same streets and have similar lives. Moderates aren’t more accepting of gays because they saw a pride parade with militants french kissing in public or wearing provocative clothing. These kinds of displays only reinforce their position of being reluctant to tolerate legal gay marriage.
I encourage gay marriage advocates to be more like Jackie Robinson. Understand and empathize with the other side talk to them about their feelings and reasoning. Ignore the bigots and their traps. Provide solutions for the other sides problems. I think gay marriage laws would get more support if they all included protections for religious institutions. Take away the argument that churches might be sued for discrimination if they refuse to perform gay marriage ceremonies. In our free society private people and groups must be free to discriminate not without social consequences but without force of law. There will be churches and organizations that will embrace same sex marriage and gays can make them even stronger with their patronage and encourage more of them.
Another huge debate in our society is gun control. Traditional we have had gun rights and are losing in some places while gaining in others so it is a different issue than same sex marriage. However the same philosophy applies, advocates like myself for gun rights need to understand the other side and reach out to it. The best thing gun owners can do is practice their right with extreme caution and responsibility. Gun accidents are at an all time low but there are still more than 800 senseless accidental guns deaths a year. As gun owners we must self regulate, there is no reason ever for a negligent discharge. We must be responsible for our guns and control them ourselves keeping them 100% secure 24/7. This is the most powerful argument for keeping the government from taking our rights. Gun owners also need to seek training and keep their skills up, so if they have to use them some day they are ready and effective.
Gun owners can take a cue from the gay community’s openess. Moderate gun owners need to let their neighbors know that they have guns and support the right of self defense. Moderates who don’t own guns need to see that for every stereotypical conspiracy nut with an arsenal there are 100,000 responsible sensible gun owners who take their right and their responsibility very seriously. Every day more than 1 million Americans carry a gun with them. They are next to you on the freeway, at the grocery store, walking down the street. Their guns do not pose any threat to you and in fact enhance your security even though you may choose to be unarmed.
We need to dial back on the rhetoric. I once posted a satirical comment on my facebook page urging the unarmed to post gun free zone signs on their houses. After an hour and one angry comment I deleted the post. While I don’t back down from the point- it was needlessly argumentative and polarizing. Some gun rights advocates have started posting a phrase ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ which means “come and take it” it is what the Spartans are reported to have said to the Persians when asked to surrender. I understand the passion and the righteous anger behind this sentiment. This kind of rhetoric might rally a base but it will turn off moderates closing their minds to our reasoning and evidence.
I have never been one to shy away from debate, I love it and am not afraid of arguments- I don’t take arguments personally and am rarely personally offended. However most people don’t want to argue or debate issues they believe. The develop strong opinions and don’t want to be challenged; they avoid conflict. Nobody wants to be wrong. It is rare that a person changes their mind overnight, it takes years and usually personal experience resonating with logic and information. Those of us who are advocates must remember this and do our best to be a part of this process. We have to learn patience and humility. We need to be more like Jackie Robinson was if we want to be a part of the movement towards the truth we believe in.
Physicians swear to first do no harm. Doctors must carefully weigh their treatments and interventions into the body to be sure not to do more harm than good. They must weigh the pros and cons, they utilize science to make informed decisions and to guide their patients.
If only government understood this simple idea. We have an activists government, a government that sees problems everywhere and is eager to solve them with laws, regulations, prohibitions and interventions of force. It is of course our own fault, we expect our government to take care of us. Governments have always existed to prevent force from outside their borders and maintain an army and defense. In modern times governments have become expected to do many more things. The government is expected to shepherd the economy to make sure the citizens have jobs that pay the bills. Governments are expected to care for the elderly and provide fairness in all things. Drugs are bad- so government must outlaw them and put those who refuse to obey in jail.
When politicians see a problem they immediately start thinking of how to address it with the force of government. All too often we pass laws thought to address a problem that create more harm than good. No one would argue that the disabled should be discriminated against so we passed a law, the ADA. Then we all moved on feeling good about our great society. But the result of that law was that fewer disabled people got jobs as businesses were afraid of the costs of accommodating them or being sued if they didn’t work out. It didn’t matter if a particular disabled person was happy to work somewhere under the conditions, the government wouldn’t allow it making that person a liability- and taking away that choice. Prostitution is demeaning to women so we prohibit it almost everywhere. But the demand remains and so now women who become prostitutes, some willingly some not, are at the mercy of the lawless streets. The intention is to get rid of the behavior we abhor but the result is worse.Regulation of industry is similar. The process was described in comical fashion by Ronald Reagan: “If it moves tax it, if it continues regulate it, if it stops subsidize it!”
In my debates I am often asked to prove that a particular law or regulation is harmful; shouldn’t the burden be on the government- the only institution with the compulsion of law to prove that it isn’t? Shouldn’t we expect our lawmakers to first do no harm? Shouldn’t they examine all the costs and weigh these against the proposed benefits of what they propose? The problem with laws and rules are that they rarely go away once passed. Year after year they persist despite all the evidence of their failure or high cost to benefit ratio. Whole industries thrive on these laws and protect them with powerful lobbyist and lawyers.
We have an ever growing nanny state, the only difference between Republicans and Democrats in recent years has been the size and scope of the nanny state. Mayor Bloomberg of NYC, a quasi Republican has gone after smoking, salt, and now soda in his city all in the name of protection. He has even tried to control the amount of pain killers doctors prescribe in the cities hospitals. We are more enamored today with safety and comfort than we are freedom. We expect to be protected and we have been all too willing to give up choice and freedom to do it. Let the citizens demand that their government first do no harm.
Virtually everyone by now has heard of the Oscar Pistorius saga. Pistorius is a very popular athlete in South Africa and made headlines at the 2012 Olympic games as the first para Olympian to compete in the regular Olympics. Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentines Day. Police have charged him with premeditated murder- but today he gave a compelling story of how he says he accidentally killed his girlfriend thinking she was an intruder. Police aren’t buying it and I will wait for the evidence before deciding what I think. For the purpose of this article I will assume he is telling the truth:
In his affidavit, Mr. Pistorius said that he and Ms. Steenkamp had decided to stay in for the night. He canceled plans with his friends for a night on the town in Johannesburg, while she opted against movies with one of her friends. They had a quiet evening, he said. She did yoga. He watched television. About 10 p.m., they went to sleep.
In the early morning hours, he said, he woke up to move a fan from the balcony and to close the sliding doors in the bedroom.
“I heard a noise in the bathroom and realized that someone was in the bathroom,” he said. “I felt a sense of terror rushing over me.”
He had already said in the affidavit that he feared South Africa’s rampant violent crime, and later added that he was worried because there were no bars on the window to the bathroom. Construction workers had left ladders in his garden, he said.
“I believed someone had entered my house,” he said in the affidavit. “I grabbed my 9-millimeter pistol from underneath my bed. On my way to the bathroom I screamed words to the effect for him/them to get out of my house and for Reeva to phone the police. It was pitch dark in the bedroom, and I thought Reeva was in bed.”
Walking on his stumps, he heard the sound of movement inside the toilet, a small room within the bathroom.
“It filled me with horror and fear of an intruder,” he said. “I did not have my prosthetic legs on and felt extremely vulnerable. I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself.”
He fired four shots, then hobbled over to the bedroom, screaming for Reeva to call the police. But when he got back to the bed, she was not there.
“That is when it dawned on me that it could have been Reeva who was in the toilet,” he said.
Of course we now know that it was Reeva behind that door and she died tragically. South Africa is a very violent country and home invasions are much more common than in the United States. I understand why Pistorius felt the need to own a gun for protection. I also choose to own a gun and have quick access to it in my home. However, Pistorius made huge errors in judgement that he should pay dearly for. There is zero justification for shooting through a door before identifying a target or threat of any kind. Guns cannot be used solely in fear and absent reason and judgement- when they are horrible things happen. Accidental shootings are very low in the United States and have dropped substantially- even in raw numbers- despite multiplicative population growth.
Absolutely nothing is perfectly safe- having firearms in your home included. We all must chose between trade offs when it comes to safety and make reasonable choices that balance the desire to be safe and the desire for other things. Every time we get in an automobile we make a calculated risk. We balance the desire for mobility with the desire for safety. The same is true for firearms. I strongly believe that trained, cool headed people are safer with guns than without. Chances are good they will never need the weapon but the likelihood that they might need it someday is higher than the chances of accidentally shooting someone. Roughly 800 people accidentally die by guns each year, but guns are used 500,000 to 2 million times in the same period to stop a likely attack.
Properly trained gun owners know that above all else you never pull the trigger without being positive you are willing to destroy what is in front of it- and furthermore can control the gun so that a miss won’t hit someone else. Some gun owners keep loaded firearms under their beds or in a drawer- I understand this but I think it is a mistake. When we are awoken from sleep there is a time period where we are not completely conscious. I personally favor a biometric safe, in order to retrieve my gun I need to have the wherewithal to put my finger on the reader and open the safe. It is possible this delay could someday result in me being to late to defend my family- but I simply cannot assure myself that I will be ready to use that gun if I merely need to reach under the bed for it. Even if I lived alone and without children I would have the same approach. I am balancing the concern of a negligent discharge with the concern of protecting against a real threat. Likewise if I cannot see my target I cannot fire upon it- there have been tragic stories of family members shooting one another after mistaking their loved one for an intruder.
Unfortunately an attacker almost always has the benefit of surprise but by putting obstacles in the way we make ourselves safer and much less likely to ever use a weapon. I have an alarm system, dogs- several locked doors and other layers of protection, my gun is a last resort.
If Mr. Pistorius is telling the truth- the guilt of being so negligent will be more punishment than whatever the criminal justice system will deliver. Don’t make the same mistake- if you choose to own a gun get yearly training and store it in a quick but secure safe whenever you don’t have it directly on your body- or are asleep.
Police officers have a difficult and sometimes thankless job. They deal often with the worst among us and have a duty to engage bad people acting out violently. As a regular citizen with a gun- I do not seek out confrontation or criminals. I don’t have to respond to domestic violence calls or protect anyone other than myself and my family. This means I am much less likely to ever need to use my gun than a police officer. In fact even most cops never have to even fire their weapons at another human being.
Having said all of this I do worry that the wrong kind of people are drawn to police work. Some officers have authority complexes and short tempers. Police officers should be cool headed clear thinkers- and many are, but some operate on short triggers and don’t deal with stress very well.
There has been a lot of talk recently about CCW (Concealed Carry Weapons) permit holders and gun crime. Some in the media such as Mother Jones have made the inaccurate claim that CCW holders haven’t ever stopped mass shootings. The also warn about CCW permit holders accidentally will shoot innocent people. I was flabbergasted when some in the media used the story of Joe Zamudio to argue against CCW permit holders. Zamudio helped restrain the Gabby Giffords shooter and was armed that day.
“I had my hand on my gun. I had it in my jacket pocket here. And I came around the corner like this.” Zamudio demonstrated how his shooting hand was wrapped around the weapon, poised to draw and fire. As he rounded the corner, he saw a man holding a gun. “And that’s who I at first thought was the shooter,” Zamudio recalled. “I told him to ‘Drop it, drop it!’ “
Zamudio then realized the man with the gun wasn’t the shooter after a brief struggle and then helped restrain the real shooter. Zamudio made the right call and didn’t pull the trigger.
In fact I have had trouble finding any case of a public shooting where a CCW permit holder shot an innocent person- none. Even the cases where they stopped a shooting such as the principle in Alabama they have only had to brandish the weapon. Maybe a reader can point one out for me, and I fully acknowledge that it could happen. Nothing is perfectly safe and we have to balance public policy for the greater good.
I also recently came upon this story, from the mass shooting in Oregon back in December. Nick Meli, a CCW permit holder saw the shooting going on and had taken cover to assess the situation.
“As I was going down to pull, I saw someone in the back of the Charlotte move, and I knew if I fired and missed, I could hit them.”
Meli kept his eyes on the shooter and watched as he ended his own life. Meli, only 22 years old, assessed the situation and made the right call. He was ready for action but showed restraint because he could have made the situation worse by missing his target.
Now lets contrast that with the accidental shooting in Torrance early this week by the LAPD. A ex-cop is targeting LAPD officers and their families and has killed three people so far. The LAPD was on high alert and had stationed officers to protect specific targets identified as high value for the ex-cop. The suspect was known to have a dark grey Nissan Titan and had shot from this truck prior. At least 7 officiers where at the scene and prepared for possible combat. Around 5am a blue Toyota Tacoma entered the neighborhood. It was driven by a 47 and 71 year old daughter and mother delivering newspapers. The suspect is a 270lbs large black man. We do not know all the facts, it has been reported that the lights of the truck were off and that the truck accelerated away after the first shots were fired (which is reasonable of course) and was then fired on again by more officers. The lawyer for the women says that no audible warnings were given before the shooting began. Thankfully despite at least 46 shots one woman was wounded twice in the back and the other wounded from glass.
The LAPD has extensive training and resources like night vision and helicopters, (not reported what these cops had in this case) things the average CCW permit holder does not. In this case they also had the element of surprise and were ready to engage. These cops were on edge and it seems to have caused a major lapse in judgement. In my comfortable “armchair” I would ask why force was necessary before any id was made. Clearly the target was well protected and these ladies were not even close to engaging the actual target but merely in the vicinity. I would also question why it wasn’t obvious that this was a different truck driven by two older women. Clearly the officiers at the very least had flashlights.
I am not ready to convict these officers and I am certain they thought they were engaging the bad guy. More information will come out and the city ( taxpayers) will probably rightfully pay out a few million dollars to these poor women. The officers may lose their jobs.
CCW permit holders do have accidents and also do commit crimes but they are rare and according to some research on par with law enforcement. It is clear that with the power to carry a gun comes tremendous responsibility. It is also clear to me that being a police officer doesn’t necessarily make a person more qualified to carry that responsibility.
Discrete security is good security. The law in Utah gives every mass shooter a reason to think they might be confronted at a school, even if none of the teachers at that school have guns. If the parents know the kids will know and that makes it more dangerous not less. We have gun free zones and so that is where these vile shooters go to rack up casualties. This woman hasn’t been fully educated on this subject and she doesn’t have a permit yet. In order to get one she will be fully educated on how to properly conceal her firearm and keep it away from her students. She is being mocked just for considering this and asking questions. Lets look at the evidence- 12 years no mass shootings and zero accidents. Is it possible an accident can occur, of course it is- nothing is perfectly safe. We have to make rational decisions based on trade offs. It isn’t crazy at all to think that arming a well trained and competent teacher may make a difference- even the idea of it is a powerful disincentive.
I also want to point out the Mother Jones article doesn’t assert that no civilian has stopped a mass shooting- even the cases they point out can be argued. Nobody will ever know what would have been in each of those cases, and it is even more remarkable that they cannot find a single incident where a CCW permit holder shot an innocent person. Only one case where the civilian was killed (may have been anyway) and no cases where the civilian had to kill the shooter to apprehend him.
At the dawn of man- it was the brute, the strong man who ruled over his clan. He may have developed some primitive form of respect but it was based on the fact that he was the strongest and able to defeat other men and hunt for food better than the rest. As civilization progressed we started to reason with each other with our words, we made agreements that were mutually beneficial and eventually learned to trade goods and services amongst ourselves. Most men and women wanted to be treated equitably and acted in kind. As societies learned and advanced the societies that valued reason gradually overtook those that favored brute force alone. This was still accomplished with force- societies that valued reason developed better weapons and defenses and lived and prospered longer. The societies with the better weapons and stronger armies became the dominant forces and spread their ideals through conquest. These societies became more peaceful over time as prosperity increased.
The Romans became the dominant western society through force, but with that force they brought peace and prosperity and the Greco-Roman ideals of governance. Roman society was brutal compared to today but less brutal than the barbarians they conquered. It has been written that it took one thousand years after the fall of the Roman empire for Europe to regain the standard of living it had at the time of the fall. In the scope of human history peace has always come through strength first.
Relatively speaking America today is a paradise of peace and prosperity because we provide ourselves- and much of the world, security from the brute, and tyranny. We spread our ideals of equality, freedom and democracy but it is the threat of force that allows for all of it.
All human interaction can be divided into reason and force. Most of us want to live in peace and wish to be treated fairly and will treat our fellow man with fairness in return. On a macro level our military and national defense keeps our country free, in our communities the task falls to the police and criminal justice system to keep us safe. When a rational man wants to take something and is willing to use force to do it, the threat of the police and the law keep them at bay. Police and law are not perfect and the rational criminal man knows this so he may act anyway. When irrational men such as the shooters in Aurora and Sandy Hook act the law does almost nothing to deter them as they do not care about punishment.
All of us understand this concept of the law on some level. Consider something as simple as crossing the street. The law states that the pedestrian has a right of way and can severely punish a driver for hitting someone. Do we therefore cross blindly- confident that the law keeps us safe? Of course not- we look out for ourselves and look both ways to make sure drivers are stopping for us. The same relationship is true for crimes of force. Brazen criminals have already made the choice to ignore the law, the law only restrains them by catching them and ultimately confining or executing them. The best the police can hope for most of the time is to catch a criminal after their crime and let the law punish them. It is very rare that the police stop a crime in progress.
Therefore most of the responsibility of safety falls to the individual. We must be prepared to defend ourselves and our families from the man who will use force. A criminal avoids the police because he knows the police are armed and ready to exert force. In the same manner if the criminal expects force from a citizen victim they will likely avoid confrontation. If the law prevents the potential victim from carrying a gun the criminal knows they are less likely to have one and is emboldened. If the law makes it hard to have a gun in the home the criminals knows this also. We see this in London where home invasion is up dramatically since the virtual gun ban. Criminals in the US rarely rob a home when someone is home but in England the reverse is true because the criminal has more upside sometimes when the homeowner is present and can be forced to comply.
The lawful man doesn’t carry a gun looking for conflict, he carries a gun to preserve his life and freedom and that of his loved ones. The gun itself doesn’t make the man evil it just mirrors the present values of the man or woman. The gun works to equalizes the equation of force allowing the just to live in peace. For the smaller and weaker the gun is even more important. A small woman of 120lbs can equal or surpass the force from a 250lbs man who wishes to harm her. Anytime we put limitations on gun rights we have to acknowledge that we are making the vulnerable weaker.
Will the law apply more to the criminal or more to the lawful? Clearly it is the criminal who flouts the law who benefits. Most new gun control laws tip the balance to the criminal. Laws that work against the criminal are good, laws that work against the lawful under the pretext of working against the criminal are bad.
In the final equation when all is measured and balanced guns are a force for good.