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. thinkhere

    a law that protects a stalker is beyond absurd. trayvon was being stalked by someone who didn't like the way he looked. whether trayvon ran or turned to protect himself.... he was absolutely doomed and the law was against him from the start... change the law now... insanity... pure insanity.. you could be next.

    April 1, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  2. Rick

    "Stand your ground laws" maybe an invitation to kill, but only criminals, thugs and the like...I find it hard to believe that we really need a law for something that is by nature a given...The Right To Defend Yourself By Any Means against an attacker. If the attacker gets hurt or killed, so what. He/she had it coming.

    April 1, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  3. Colin

    I'd like to see Zimmerman try to"stand his ground" against Bubba when he gets life in prison. He had no right to chase anyone who was not committing a crime, and he had no right to carry a gun in his position as neighborhood watch captain.

    April 1, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  4. tardacus

    There`s nothing wrong with this law, this law doesn`t affect honest citizens it only affects criminals and thugs.

    April 1, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • just sayin

      and kids packing skittles.

      April 1, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  5. Clueless in Cleveland

    Trey Vaughn is innocent becuz he dead, and he black. No ded black is guilty of nuthin'. I believe in Tawana Brawley and Anita Hill

    April 1, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 1, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  7. Timber

    My Take: Stand Your Ground laws are necessary for self-defense. End of story.

    April 1, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Jon

      Wow! What a well reasoned, evidence based opinion!

      April 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  8. heloise8

    Reblogged this on The Trough and commented:
    Zimmerman will never be convicted of anything. My take heloise

    April 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  9. NoComment

    By the way,

    Just to let all of you know, before any of you think I might be racist, I am in no way racist.
    I am completely and totally color blind when it comes to other races.

    As I do not have a problem with them, but sometimes I do have problems with individuals,
    and when I do, I always do my best to solve those problems diplomatically without resorting
    to using my sidearm, which I am licensed to carry concealed in my state.

    The end

    April 1, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  10. NoComment

    18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

    April 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • advocatusdiaboli

      And be a lamb to the slaughter. THe nature of man is such that you must fight or die sometimes.

      April 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  11. Urafkntool

    If Tayvon had been white and Zimmerman black, this would have never even made the news, except for possibly a small mention in the local paper.

    April 1, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • chopdixxs

      It wouldn't have made the news outside of a small mention because it would have been handled accordingly most likely. The shooter would have more than likely been thrown in jail that very night. Do you think a black man shooting an unarmed white teenager on his own fathers property would have been ruled as "self-defense" in any instance in the U.S.A.?

      April 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • tardacus

      he wasnt on his fathers property, his father didnt even live there in that gated community, the fathers "girlfriend" lived there.

      April 1, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  12. Tim

    I no longer take serious any article about the Trayvon case that uses a very old photo of him as it's banner. If your argument is honest, true and unbiased, then what's wrong with using a more current, teenage photo of him showing off his gold teeth and tattoos? If the author does not have the confidence to do that, then even they don't believe the argument they are making is true and must use an sweet, innocent picture of him to tug at the reader's heartstrings to make their point valid.

    April 1, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Someone

      Very true, Your absolutely right about the old photos... since story one old photos of both subjects have been used. Why?? Most of the stories it looks as if the authors are still trying to figure out if Zimmerman is Latino or white. Just trying to figure out which two groups of people they can get to go at each other just to advance political agenda's and further press for unlawful and ridiculous anti gun and anti self defense laws.

      We should only be at the mercy of the police and the armed criminals. Sounds promising? All while half of the other stories are of how terrorists are quietly roaming the darkness waiting to strike at American citizens every chance they may get.

      Everyone, do yourselves a favor and ignore this story and every bit of self emotion the author has displayed in it. The people of Florida, including myself, voted for these self defense laws and they have worked very well keeping us safe.

      I'm not putting down my defenses, nor would I ask anyone else to, because of someone else's actions.

      April 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  13. Reality

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:––>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    The security-camera-hiding hoodie as the new sign of crime?

    From today's local newspaper: "Mayor decries killing of Fla. teen"

    25 lines down another headline: "Man Shot Dead at Apartments"

    "The man was shot with a handgun at close range by a man in a gray hoodie".

    Couple this with almost daily news' accounts and photos of robberies of convenience stores and small grocercies by teens and young adults dressed in hoodies and no wonder the country is sensitized by the head-hiding hoodie. And then there are all the TV cop shows with almost daily stories depicting the same scenario.

    Note: Some banks now ban the wearing of head-hiding hoodies in their facilities.

    April 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • The Deist

      Forget your tin-foil hat this morning?

      April 1, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • GTA

      If you are implying that Trayvon Martin is even partially responsible for his own death simply because he was wearing a hoodie, then you must concede that Zimmerman was even more responsible for Trayvon's death because Zimmerman pursued Trayvon against clear advise not to do so. If Zimmerman had a legal right to follow and confront Trayvon, then Trayvon had an even more basic right to wear clothes of his own choice. You can't have it both ways.

      April 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • tardacus

      just because everyone who dies from rattlesnake poison was bit by a rattlesnake doesnt mean that all rattlesnakes are bad

      April 1, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  14. jimg45

    Yhis is a case of people trying to apply the law when they have no clue as to how or what the particular law apples to. The "Stand Your Ground" law simply gives you the right to defend yourself. It in no way applies to being chased down and killed as it is alleged with Zimmerman. The stand your ground law does not give you permission or the right to give chase and use deadly force once the threat to you or others is no longer imminent, again does not apply to Zimmerman as he allegedly did. Remember, Zimmerman is innocent until proven guilty. None of us have access to the evidence so we do not know anything about the evidence or lack of evidence. The only thing we know is what the media puts out.

    April 1, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  15. Sharp

    These 'Stand Your Ground' laws were passed to deal with bold criminals who would sue a person if they dared to protect themselves or their property. Also the surviving family of these bold criminals would sue or charges would be sought. These laws are a means of putting an honest citizen firmly in the right while protecting themselves or their property. They are primarily effective only on one's own property or home. This Trayvon Martin affair is an unfortunate abuse of these laws. They don't even apply. Burglaries & home invasions go way down in states with these laws & the Martin case is the first really bad abuse of the law.

    April 1, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • jimg45@gmail.com

      Very true with one caveat, the law does, at least in my state, extend the same right to defend no matter where you are and does include others (family, friends or unknowns) who are imminent danger of losing their life. That said, the defender better know what he or she is doing because once that bullet leaves the barrel there is no bringing it back. If the offender has turned to leave or run the threat is considered moot and the bullet in their back will tell the whole story.

      April 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  16. splasher6

    'No Limit Nagga found out different....

    April 1, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  17. MidwstrnGrl

    When does it go from self defense to vigilantism? from rule of law to anarchy? We live under rule of law. 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 10:42 am |
    • Sharp

      It becomes vigilantism when you leave your property & seek out the confrontation as Zimmerman did.

      April 1, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • advocatusdiaboli

      "It becomes vigilantism when you leave your property & seek out the confrontation as Zimmerman did."

      You don't know the law. A private gated community is private property and he had the right to police it and defend himself as you do you gated private yard.

      April 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  18. 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 10:40 am |
    • jimg45@gmail.com

      It goes from self defence to vigilantism when there was no threat to begin with AND the aggressor goes after a target as Zimmerman allegedly did. Self-defence is just that. When You, your Family, or another Person faces imminent threat of dying at the hands of another you have the right to defend if you have and know how to use a weapon and are licensed to carry it. This, from what is being put out by the media is clearly a case of premeditated murder in which the victim would have had every right to defend against. Again, this is based on what the media has put out and since we or the media does not have access to the actual evidence (besides the 911 tape) we cannot realistically judge what happened.

      April 1, 2012 at 12:17 pm |

    Thanks for putting a bulls eye on your back you race bating bigot

    April 1, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • advocatusdiaboli

      Even though it is true, you shouldn't talk about Sharpton like that. It would be construed as a death threat and you might now be under surveillance.

      April 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  20. rbreban

    One black more or less who cares? He was a delinquent and he got what he deserved. I hate that they keep showing pictures when he was just a kid. This guy was a man already. I would have shot him too.

    April 1, 2012 at 9:26 am |

      Thanks for putting a bulls eye on your back you race bating bigot

      April 1, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Holy Cats

      "...he got what he deserved." Really? I find it odd that you are posting on the religion portion of the CNN website. I will not question what religion or faith you follow, but I can state with absolute confidence it does not resemble any with compassion. That child belonged to one race-the human race. Having said that, I dare say young Trayvon is in a better place than you seem to be rbreban: someplace where hatred, racism, violence, and apathy does not exist. You are a creature to be pitied: that is my human compassion showing...you would do well to find some yourself.

      April 1, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Urafkntool

      Actually Cats, you're wrong. There is no "human race." Human is a species, not a race. The races are divided out among Caucasiod, Mongoloid, and Ne-gr-oi-d. These are all scientific classifications. The phrase "human race" is liberal propoganda, and of course, completely incorrect.

      April 1, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • rbreban

      And where are you heaven?

      April 1, 2012 at 6:35 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.