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)
  1. M99

    If you believe this you are a coward, but than again that is what most Americans are turning into. Go and run away. Good luck.

    April 1, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • Lu Tenant

      watch what i think about trayon Martin


      April 1, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  2. Don


    Only an idiot would make the inflammatory comments you made as well as showing the clearly dated photo of the youth who lost his life because he unwisely decided to be a hooligan and try to rough of the wrong person. Only on CNN does this smack have a forum because all law abiding citizens have a right to arm themselves and fight back, not having to retreat like a coward as some!

    April 1, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  3. Rudy

    You are wrong unless of course you prefer life under the thumb of the mob. From what one can gather is that the black man thought in his usual way that laws are for the whites to abide with and for blacks to break them. I wonder what the discussion if any would have been if this were a white kid, be it a white trailert trash. They complain of historic wrongs. Yes, yes, reverse discrimination and affirmative action.

    April 1, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things . .

    April 1, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • MidwstrnGrl

      go away

      April 1, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  5. Cas

    "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."

    I wrote exactly this point weeks ago! Very very true.

    April 1, 2012 at 3:38 am |
  6. NoMoreLabels

    Well written article. We need more commentary like this.

    April 1, 2012 at 1:40 am |
    • eyeforaneye

      i think zimmerman opened the door for us to shoot some one that try to fight back!!! i hope they free him so the usa can finally start over with a civil war and declare martial law on them so the white race can prevail like we planed for 400 years

      April 1, 2012 at 3:47 am |
  7. chelsea

    Correct & insightful... now, will someone also shoot George Zimmerman, Travvon's shooter, also in self defense? this is a never ending cycle with a license for killing anybody. great job NRA!!! alll citizens need to arm themselves... if this law stands and spreads to other states. we will all be gun toting citizens protecting our lives...civil society just regressed 50 yrs...

    April 1, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • John

      What happen here is horrible, but owning a gun doesn't make you a killer.

      Bad people will do bad things, Don't place blame no the tool if a murderer didn't have a gun he would have used a knife no knife a rock and so on.

      I own a gun and my first thought in a bad situation? Run pulling a gun out is stupid if you can run the hell away. A normal person wouldn't want to go out and just shoot someone.

      Gun Owner but not part of NRA.

      April 1, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  8. DM

    Ironically, Zimmerman claims that he was "standing his ground" while it looks like Martin died "standing" his. Both young men "standing" ended up on the ground; one had a gun and one is dead. Tell me how "stand your ground" prevents a tragedy?

    March 31, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  9. mikstov33

    With all the attention given to "bullying" in the schools and playgrounds of this country, should we advocate a Stand your Ground ground law for the victims of this violent act? Would a white kid get into trouble for fighting back and possibly injuring a kid of color? Or would a black, hispanic or any other minority child only have to proclaim racism on the white childs part in order to somehow make the bullying necessary, or even allowed?
    Reverse the roles of the kids in this scenario and ask yourselves the same question.
    I think Zimmerman is more of an idiot with a gun and a power trip than a true racist.

    March 31, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  10. Salero21

    The author might as well advocate Geraldine's "The Devil made me do it" theology.

    What type of hogwash is this? The blame and responsibility should and ought to be placed where it belongs ALWAYS.

    In this case Zimmerman was told by the 911 Responder: "We don't need you to do that" after the responder heard from Zimmerman that he was following Martin. He ignored the advised of the 911 responder and temerariously continued to follow and eventually confront Martin. No doubt in my mind that he confronted Martin brashly also.

    All of this could have been prevented have Zimmerman, followed the rules of the Neighborhood Watch Programs in FL and elsewhere in the Nation. Neighborhood Watch is just that, a WATCH! Is Not Neighborhood PATROL, is Not Neighborhood CONFRONTATION. But Zimmerman was emboldened by his 9mm. At 7:15 in FL there is enough day light in Feb. for him to be able to see that Martin was black.

    March 31, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  11. primusteufel

    That is BS, next time someone punches you in the face just take it turn and walk away. Se how far that gets you, a kick in the butt when you are walking away.

    March 31, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  12. Greg

    Why not wait until the facts are in? According to witnesses, Trayvon was the guy with the upper hand and was beating up Zimmerman. Should Zimmerman have waited until he was unconscious or dead? That's the problem these days, the criminal gets the benefit of the doubt. Not in my house they don't.

    March 31, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  13. Greg

    Is this why blacks account for 93% of crimes against other blacks? Yeah, didn't think so.

    March 31, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Freddie

      What does that have to do with this blog? This is a highly segregated country. People tend to live in areas with their own race. Violence is not fashioned more with a particular race. Therefore, we know that violent acts are most likely to occur between members of the same race.

      March 31, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Urafkntool

      @Freddie: Actually, it's not. But it needs to be. If they're not going to ship the blacks back to Africa (preferable), the mexicans back to mexico (preferable), the Asians (including indians) back to their Asian countries (preferable), the middle easterners back to their middle eastern countries (preferable), then we need segregation in order to have a more peaceful society.

      April 1, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  14. Tatiana Covington

    Let others retreat from me, especially when I command them to.

    March 31, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • John Lydon

      If you have PMS and and AK, I am retreating as fast as I can!

      March 31, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  15. Bob

    I have an inalienable right to defend myself. I don't need a law. This is just another armchair, sissy-boy Liberal flapping his gums. Remember, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

    March 31, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • John

      I know you have the right to defend yourself but do you really want to take a life? when you could have just ran away.
      Don't get me wrong if the situation calls for it and you can't run away by all means. It's your life or the aggressors but don't think to shoot first in all situations. Just like this time around this teenager didn't have a weapon and by the look of it much smaller, that man should have ran away.

      April 1, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Urafkntool

      @John: Zimmerman was returning to his vehicle when Martin confronted him from behind. Martin had intentionally doubled back and approached Zimmerman from behind with violent intentions. This is why Martin is dead. No other reason. He attacked an armed man, was slamming his head into the fricken concrete. I'd shoot too.

      April 1, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 31, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  17. Urafkntool

    Boy none of you can read, can you? Zimmerman has been PROVEN to be defending himself. His head was being slammed against the concrete. How many of you would shoot someone who was slamming your head against concrete? Even the fricken police report states that Zimmerman was treated for nose and head injuries by EMS workers. Face it. Martin was the guilty party and got what he deserved.

    March 31, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • exterminator

      The skittles, don't forget the skittles. The danger of a nasty paper cut from the packaging would take hours to heal.

      March 31, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Repost as tool keeps ignoring facts

      Mr. Tool, the accounts of the only eyewitness states that they did not scuffle on concrete – they were on the grass. The evidence of film taking about a half hour after the shooting shows NO signs of injury to Zimmerman's head or nose, and certainly no blood. The mortician stated they found no signs of a struggle at all – knuckles get thrashed fast if a punch is thrown, but Martin's knuckles showed no signs.

      You keep harping on the "head-slamming" chord, but the ONLY evidence of that is what Zimmerman said. You are taking Zimmerman at his word 100%, and ignoring all other evidence. The only evidence supporting Zimmerman is his own words – the physical evidence is much less flattering to his story.

      You have posted racist comments repeatedly on this blog, especially against blacks. That no doubt has blinded you to the hard evicence. All you see in a black kid in a hoodie, and that's good enough for a kill to you.

      The investigator for the case wanted to prosecute Zimmerman on manslaughter, but was talked out of it.

      March 31, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Freddie

      Got what he deserved? That hurts my soul to know that you think that. I'm sorry but if some one followed me and then when I started to run, pursued me...I would go on the defense. Vet your rhetoric!!

      March 31, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • MidwstrnGrl

      when does it go from self defense to vigilantism? from rule of law to anarchy? the whole thing could have been avoided if he simply did not stalk the guy after calling police...like the dispatcher instructed? Did the other guy perhaps feel threatened and feared for his life? Martin forced a confrontation and thus forced a situation which resulted in death. No one when he followed was in harms way...this is truly a case of vigilantism...

      April 1, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Urafkntool

      @Repost: You mean repost because I won't buy any liberal propoganda. There's a partial police report released where the lead officer actually reports Zimmerman having injuries to his nose and the back of his head. In said police report, Zimmerman was treated on the scene by EMT's. Try again.

      April 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Urafkntool

      @Freddie: Sounds like you have an issue then. Allow some thug to kill you, or kill him in defense. I know which one *I* choose. I guess you have to decide how important your life is to you.

      @Midwstrngirl: Zimmerman had started to return to his vehicle. Martin doubled back and approached from behind and began a confrontation asking if Zimmerman "had a problem" in a belligerent tone. When Zimmerman said no, Martin said "you do now" and hit him in the nose, knocking him down and commenced to pounding his head on the ground. He got what he deserved.

      April 1, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  18. Sifleut

    A dead person can't tell their side of the story, so the killer goes free because they screamed out, "It was self defense". I call BS!

    March 31, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  19. Nita spann

    Re Travon Martin. This kid was pursued, provoked and murdered. Now the prosecutor is protecting the perpetrator. I just don't get it. I thought the prosecutor was to assist the victim. What family in America with a teen age son, and have this situation occur in their life, can honestly say he deserved it. GZimmerman had no reason to pursue him. He was walking on a street minding his own business.

    March 31, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Matt

      You don't really know that though, do you? You don't know what happened. No one does except Zimmerman. You are just saying what you wish/hope happened.

      March 31, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Sifleut

      Exactly, it's the killer's word against the dead person's word. The Florida law is wrong!

      March 31, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  20. Matt

    I read that Democrats actually passed the law in Florida. Fact check much, CNN?

    Anyway, right, we should all have to run in the face of eminent violence as opposed to defend ourselves. What a stupid idea.

    March 31, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • pjkoenig

      This means you have the RIGHT to protect you and your family.

      Nothing more.


      March 31, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Get it right


      March 31, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Salero21

      Former Fl senator Durell Peaden was a Republican at the time he wrote the law, co-sponsor was Rep. Dennis Baxley also a Republican. The legislation was signed into Law by also Republican Governor Jeb Bush. Facts and only Facts! I was also a resident of FL at the time. Facts just facts!

      March 31, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Matt

      I read every Democrat voted for it bar one.

      April 1, 2012 at 10:52 am |
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About this blog

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.