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My Ethics: 'Stand your ground' laws are invitation to kill
The author says Florida legislators who supported the state's "stand your ground" law are responsible for Trayvon Martin's killing.
March 28th, 2012
02:53 PM ET

My Ethics: 'Stand your ground' laws are invitation to kill

Editor’s note: Edward L. Queen II directs the D. Abbot Turner Program in Ethics and Servant Leadership at Emory University’s Center for Ethics.

By Edward L. Queen II, Special to CNN

(CNN) The true architects of the Trayvon Martin killing not only will not go unpunished, they also will go unnamed.

Those who created the conditions for Martin’s killing those who, one might say, invited it were the Florida legislators who voted for a law that undid not only decades of positive law regarding self-defense but also centuries of legal tradition.

In promoting “stand your ground” laws, self-proclaimed conservatives become grossly irresponsible radicals, drastically and dramatically undoing centuries of accumulated wisdom in their evisceration of the traditional formulation of self-defense.

They rip apart the traditional understanding of the legitimate use of deadly force in self-defense and invite people to kill.

Traditionally, the law understood deadly force to be justified in self-protection only when an individual reasonably believed that its use was necessary to prevent imminent and unlawful use of deadly force by the aggressor. Much of the tradition also argued that deadly force, outside of one’s immediate home, was not justified if a nondeadly response, such as retreating to a safe place, would suffice.

In adopting its "stand your ground" law in 2005 (officially Title XLVI, Chapter 776.013) the Florida Legislature, along with 20 other states with similar laws, both expanded the understanding of when deadly force is acceptable and eliminated the duty to retreat.

Florida’s law in particular remade the very nature of self-defense, turning what had been an “affirmative defense” into a presumption of innocence.

Before the passage of these “stand your ground laws,” most jurisdictions in the United States required one to demonstrate that one was acting in self-defense, that one had been attacked, that one reasonably feared for one’s life and that it was reasonable to use deadly force to protect oneself.

Unfortunately, Florida’s law expressly presumes that the individual using deadly force in self-defense had a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury. It also immunizes the individual from arrest or even being detained in custody, hence the failure of the police to arrest George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who has acknowledged shooting Martin.

One can only be shocked at this law’s idiocy. It is, simply, an invitation to kill.

Under the “stand your ground” law, any liar who kills someone and can concoct a reasonably plausible story cannot be arrested by the police or even taken in for questioning. Lest one think the Martin case is exceptional, justifiable homicide/self-defense claims have tripled since the law’s adoption, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The law also places police officers in a difficult situation; the killer’s story often cannot be contradicted because the person in the best position to challenge it is in no position to do so. That individual is dead silent and cold.

That many people, including the legislators who authored the Florida legislation, have said the facts, as they emerged later, suggest that Zimmerman may not have acted in self-defense changes nothing.

The problem with the law is that, absent the outcry that followed, the facts would not have emerged. Unable to arrest and question the killer and to pursue the case, police find themselves in a situation where they are prevented from gathering the facts.

This structural limitation is exacerbated by the biases and prejudices that the officers bring with them regarding race, age, gender and criminality, to name just a few.

In their thoughtless attempts to undo the wisdom of centuries, extremists in the Florida Legislature went out of their way, if not to legalize murder, at least to decriminalize it. Each legislator who supported the law had a hand in Trayvon Martin’s killing and perhaps others.

With its craven attempt to garner votes by purportedly expanding individuals’ abilities to protect themselves, the Florida Legislature has made all of us targets and each of us a potential victim.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Edward L. Queen II.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Crime • Florida • Opinion • Race

soundoff (870 Responses)
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    September 19, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  2. Elvis

    Don't Re-nig in 2012 does that somehow have noihtng whatsoever to do with the tea party?? Also, how is it patriotic in the tea party's eyes to make Obama a 1-term president above all else before any progress in job creation and economic recovery? Most likely, if Obama were to bring down unemployment to 0%, revive the economy, and restore America's image in the world's eyes, the Republicans, the Tea Party, FOX/Faux News and the rest of their ilk would STILL be unimpressed because they can't wrap their heads around the first African-American/biracial POTUS succeeding, at least in some ways. After all, the Right's fearless leader Limbaugh wanted Obama to fail from square one.Getting back to the Trayvon murder, since he has been cited to just have a bag of Skittles and an iced tea from a convenience store, the stand your ground law doesn't pan out at all for Zimmerman, not to mention that a hoodie doesn't pose a threat since you can see one's face in it, as opposed to the hoodies the KKK wears On a personal note, Trayvon being armed with a bag of Skittles sort of reminds me of when I was on a movie date 10 years ago with a lady friend, where I made a flirty comment to her and she punched me fairly lightly on the shoulder with a bag of Skittles that didn't make me angry, or much less want to kill/murder her since I'm better than that and don't have a history of domestic violence against women Now, if only Zimmerman would MAN-UP and come clean with the truth of how hot under the collar he was that night he went after and murdered Trayvon Martin.

    May 19, 2012 at 1:39 am |
  3. Dom-TX

    The alternative to the "Stand Your Ground Law" (i.e.- civilians not allowed to stand their ground against criminals) is to give the law enforcement agencies practice in laying tape around the bodies of dead law-abiding citizens.

    April 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  4. Unit34AHunter

    Stand Your Ground laws are a public good. We can't know for sure whether or not they apply to Zimmerman's case. That is for a jury to decide. But where Stand Your Ground laws allow people to defend themselves, even using lethal force, against home-invaders, they are an objective good. The universe is better off for the death of habitual criminals.

    April 16, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  5. Duane

    Nice propaganda always showing the misrepresenting Trayvon as a child instead of being almost a grown man. How about showing more accurate and recent picture of Trayvon.

    April 15, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Joe

      "Almost" means NOT a grown man.

      I guess that it's legal in the Gunshine State to kill a grown man?

      April 16, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  6. bullcutter

    so what should Zimmerman have done.....Let Martin beat his head to a pulp.....?? He had to defend himself, Period. Anyone else would have done the same unless this was not the case

    April 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • lostisland

      What should he have done? He should have been minding his own business and not dogging the kid that's what. And then if confronted by the kid, who apparently did stand his ground, taken his lumps like a man.

      April 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • lostisland

      The real point here, is that Zimmerman wasn't standing his ground, he decided to stand on the kids. It sounds like the kid actually did stand his ground and tried to get a hellhound off his trail...

      April 15, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • DaTripper

      "The gun issues in the Martin case extend beyond Stand Your Ground. Zimmerman, 28, was legally carrying a Kel Tec 9 mm handgun despite an arrest record that included an assault and domestic violence complaints." so I guess he ENJOYS beating on people.

      April 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Joe

      The law is actually very easy to understand. Anyone can legally "stand his/her ground" at any time and the fastest gun wins. It's no wonder that the state nickname is the sunshine state!

      April 16, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • Joe

      "unless this was not the case"

      The fastest gun wins in the Gunshine State. The loser can't testify.

      April 16, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • Jack Bartram

      Nah, anyone else with a functioning brain would have left the situation alone when the police said 'Leave it alone, let us handle it'. The sad thing is that the only way that these idiots (and by that I mean anyone who supports this law is without any intelligent doubt an idiot) will learn is when they are alone with someone, or perhaps a family member is alone with someone that shoots than for fun then says "I was defending myself". Perhaps when the supporters of this insane and inane law lose a loved one to 'self-defense', then they will realize how stupid the law and it's supporters are.

      Somehow I doubt it, though... in the words of Ron White, "Stupid is forever".

      April 16, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  7. Joe shmoe

    Once again, the liberals focus on ONE incident involving a legal gun owner while ignoring the REAL problem. Since Trayvon Martin was killed, 93 (and counting) African Americans were murdered by other African Americans possessing ILLEGAL firearms.

    It's mind-boggling that these anti-gun people want to remove my rights under the second amendment while tens of thousands are killed and maimed every year by DRUNKS in cars. Ban alcohol if you REALLY want to save lives.

    April 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Ken

      Stick to the issue at hand. Legal guns save lives in the vast majority of cases. If, in this case, it was not legal....hand the shooter. In the mean time quite using one instance to make a case for the whole nation.

      April 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  8. Don Montalvo

    Oh please, try each case individually. George Zimmerman was NOT standing his ground. He profiled and stalked an innocent person. George Zimmerman should go to jail for murder. Please don't let Fox News cloud your sensibilities. Stand Your Ground is an important right, and jail time for George Zimmerman is just as important.

    Don Montalvo, TX

    April 15, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • lostisland

      Agreed.

      April 15, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • John

      Mr. Queen's fallacy is made evident by the fact that Mr. Zimmerman has been arrested and charged. The legislators that he disparages and calls accomplices to Mr. Martin's murder disagree with him, the prosecuting attorneys disagree and common sense disagree. Even a most basic reading of the law shows how confused Mr. Queen is.

      Sure, everyone has an opinion, but if you are going to publish it internationally, why not make it an informed one, Mr. Queen?

      April 15, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  9. james Laka

    Funny how the presumption is that white people have guns, and black people are the thugs, i am black executive and i now want a bullet proof vest to go with the gun i applied for, try me people i am no criminal but will be standing my ground a lot from here on too. Black folks get your kids those guns, they will need them because the coward is the one that does not know how to wield deadly force – Treyvon would have defended his life if he was also armed and ready to defend himself after being acousted by that cowardly murderer Zimmerman. Now lets see where this takes everyone...Mutually assured distraction – dont flinch...

    April 10, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  10. john andrews

    I HAVE NOTHING AGAINST BLACKS BUT THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH SOME BLACKS IN HOW THEY CARRY THEMSELVES, DRESS AND ACT. Saggy pants should be against the law (and is in some cities) and saggy pants is a form of indecent exposure. Wearing a hoodie in florida this time of year? It's not cold in Florida; Those are worn mostly by blacks as another "Dress of being kool" and they wear their caps backwards as it is a kool way to do do. COME ON FLOKS how we dress tells a lot about how we feel about ourselves. If the shooter was black and the victim was white then it would be a total different story. Most of the black culture are people who want to be noticed and they do whatever they can to get that. Loud musice in the cars; they talk and speak louder than the average human. They blame their downs on whites and the list is never ending. These kind of blacks ought to hop a ship and go to another country if they don't like the united state. Maybe they wouldn't like their Home Country as well. Some are never satisfied.

    All in all, the kid should have been responsible and got his candy and tea earlier in the day and not be walking through peoples yards at night. Walk through my yard during the night with a hoodie covering your face and i'll shoot too.

    Come on folks, look at the reasoning and the real situation and not the COLOR issue; Blacks always jump in Color. The kid should have been in the house playing a game or watching tv. Not walking through someones yard during the night. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time and now he is where?

    We need to teach our kids responsibility and to think before their actions.

    Hope you got this one people

    April 10, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • DaTripper

      Profiling at its best. Dressing the way one wants, and walking the way one wants does NOT give anyone the right to KILL YOU! I wonder who taught Zimmerman it's OK TO KILL?? I'm still trying to figure out who gave that idiot a gun!
      Zimmerman would not have had a reason to "defend" himself if he hadn't been stalking someone.

      April 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  11. Jeff

    Fear is the mother of violence.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  12. Reagan80

    Being a thug can be dangerous under these laws.

    April 10, 2012 at 3:15 am |
  13. JOE

    Stand your ground is basically a "GUNS SALES" law intended to increase the sales of guns!!!!! Pathetic & stupid, America had reasonable laws in place with the castle theory.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  14. MrKnowsIT

    look i understand that this shouldnt have happened and Zimmerman is clearly covering it up by saying it was self-defense, but just because he is claiming that doesnt mean you need to take the right of self-defense away from every person, look at England if you so much as have barbed wire fence around your yard and the burglar hurts himself YOU GO TO JAIL

    April 9, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  15. Robert Johnson

    Self Defense is a basic human right, which no government ever has a right to take away. Research has clearly shown that wherever Concealed Carry laws go into effect, crime goes down. The longer the law is in effect, the more guns that are in civilian hands, the more crime goes down. If Zimmerman were actually following Trayvon, at a distance, the civilized response by 17 year old Trayvon would have been, "Excuse me, sir; are you following me? I am not a criminal. I am walking home after buying these snacks. If you keep following me, I will call the police." Of course, 17 year old Trayvon, the athlete, could easily have simply taken off and out run the overweight Zimmerman in a second. Isn't that how most 17 year olds would have reacted? Instead, Trayvon had made the decision to immerse himself into the anger and hate filled world of "gangsta" culture. He was filled with rage against "white" people and had the narcissistic audacity to think he had the right to walk up to Zimmerman and punch him to the ground and then try to murder him by banging his head on the concrete. This type of activity might have made him a real "Playa" in his make believe teen gangsta world...but in the real world, if you act like a thug, you might die like a thug. The "media" is doing it's best to cover up the facts but they will come out anyway. Hundreds of such hate filled crimes against whites happen regularly but the "media" covers them up.

    April 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Norm

      I love you. That was very well said sir. Here Here.

      April 9, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Progressive

      If the burden of self-defense was placed on Zimmerman, shouldn't he have retreated? Oh wait, he was too busy picking a fight with a kid.

      April 9, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Mr. Logic

      Bravo Sir. It is sad but true. I hope the people protesting this realize how much hate they have. Hate does not solve problems. Dr. Martin Luther King hate? He did not.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • What

      U R out of your mind, small and short brian, The way you are thinking. You are worse than Zimmerman and Martin. Very scary

      April 10, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  16. Brian

    I am all for every American having the right to "stand your groung". I carry a firearm to protect my family. With that being said "Stand your ground" does not mean let Zimmerman follow Martin and then when Martin turns to "stand his ground" that you have the right to kill him. This case has ugly written all over it. And BTW I am white and Republican, that does not make me a racist.

    April 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Norm

      I sir am a proper racist and I am a democrat. That being said, Thank god someone is saying that this is not a "stand your ground' case. Gun hating groups are exploiting this case as an excuse to try to curtail gun rights. Who can argue against standing your ground? Are we supposed to cower to outlaws? F That!

      April 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • What

      Totally agree

      April 10, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • Dubious

      Thank GOD someone else is saying this isn't a "Stand Your Ground" case. Everyone needs to save their ire for when/if Zimmerman gets off without penalty.

      That said, I'm not ready to convict Zimmerman without a trial. Following someone isn't against the law, either (though it voids any claim to "Stand Your Ground). If Zimmerman followed Martin and was assaulted, Zimmerman might have a fair chance at claiming self defense.

      April 15, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • DaTripper

      This whole situation is beyond understanding. The REALLY sad part – it took a loud public outcry for the law to even charge him! And even at that it took them 45 days to arrest him. Yeah this is going to get real ugly.

      April 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  17. JC

    Repukes would have the entire country armed, ready and able to kill at a moment's notice (whether or not it's necessary). Because in reality, conservatives are only about the protection of "life" when that life is an unborn blob of parasitic tissue. For real live human beings, all bets are off.

    April 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Brian

      @ JC...you have been brainwashed by all the Dempukes. You are an idiot just like them

      April 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Norm

      While I hear you about Republicans, I'm a Democrat and refuse to bury my head in the sand like you. We live in a violent world. "The good old days" is just a saying.. This world has been violent from the beginning. The gun, like it or not is truly the great equalizer. If you are truly concerned about African Americans getting killed by people defending themselves then get your community activists together to get the message out that it's time to stop emulating criminals and start acting like you live in a civilized society. There is a major difference down here in South Florida between Caucasians and African Americans, I have seen this state devolve into a F***ing zoo. You CAN NOT DENY the major cultural differences, theft and violence are commonplace in the black community. My gun ensures that I will not be another victim.

      April 9, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  18. Miriam

    My take is, once Zimmerman was told by the 911 operator to STOP pursuing Trayvon Martin, he was asking for an escalation to occur when he got out of the vehicle to confront him. His actions point to him being a type a man that wants to be seen as a hero, and save the day when everyone is better off if he'd know his role and refrain. He's actions were plainly stupid and he should be arrested for it.

    April 9, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • Brian

      Zimmerman was NOT told to stop pursuing Martin. He was told "We don't need you to do that". Either way, I agree he should not have continued to follow Martin.

      April 9, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Norm

      Do you, like the entire African American community miraculously does, have information that we don't have? How do we know that he did in fact keep following him? He says he didn't. It drives me nuts that everyone feels like they have any idea of what happened that night. We don't govern this land by mob justice. Let law enforcement do their job. In the mean time, how about we get the word out to the black community that it doesn't look like a good idea to emulate thug gang bangers.

      April 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Dubious

      So, Zimmerman should go to jail for following someone? When did that start being illegal?

      I agree with posters above, let's allow law enforcement to do their jobs. If Zimmerman is found guilty, light him up. If not, suck it up.

      April 15, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Rugiatu

      If we are going to start putting byoutns out on people (a very bad idea ), then we should start with The New Black Panthers. Those who would deprive anyone of the protections of due process, should be treated the same way that they are advocating. If I were Zimmerman's family, I would make it clear to the Panthers that anyone trying to hurt George, will find themselves lying dead in the street, put down like any other rabid dog.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.