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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)
  1. beezmo

    journalists that bully scape goats thru headlines...the journalist always gets away with free murder and intimidation...cause the subject will act out of rage...im not saying it happens here...but i know for a fact that some french journalist from montreal got spies working for them...and they always try to make their headline look innocent when they always write their headlines from information they receive from their spies..so they are basically invading poeple privacy and mock at them...:;hey little scape goat your purpose of coming on earth was suppose to be this´..you know like being number one on our singing contest on national tv...since you havent figurre it out..we are gonna bully till death thru our headlines..after reincarnation process we will try to fraud your life away again and get away with it...we marked your soul..

    sick isnt it? thats how montreal media work..in canada...and they put a nice smart president to take poeples mind off what they are doing to poeple..

    April 8, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  2. A Fools Errand

    "Stand your ground" law are invitations to kill? Apparently so are sneakers, jackets, iPods and money to nmae a few! Should we get rid of them too? Idiot!

    April 8, 2012 at 7:24 am |
  3. Chris

    I just don't understand how the media seems to be completely ignoring the point that Zimmerman was the aggressor in this case. How would anyone feel or react when some random person is following them in a strange vehicle, then gets out and gives chase when they tried to run away? I would defend myself any way I could. Clearly there is someone after me for no apparent reason and I'm scared thinking that they are trying to rob me or hurt me. I go into self defense mode and sure, if there is a gun handy, I might go for it in an attempt to preserve my life and health. I can't conceive any grand jury not sending this case to trial, and when that happens I'm sure justice will be served.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:26 am |
  4. Dandy

    I think that in the end Trayvon will be found to have been the aggressor in this situation. He was clearly on the wrong road having been tossed out of school more than once. This kid was no angel. It is sad that so many people jumped to the assumption that he was doing nothing wrong before they let the investigation take place. A lot of ignorant people yelling about something they know nothing about.

    April 7, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  5. Saber

    This article has been totally slanted by the Anti-Second Amendment people is totally unfair and unbalanced! ANYONE in the USA has the right to defend themsleves or another person from a violent act or crime with the commensurate amount of force to bring the situation under control. If it warrants deadly force, then it warranted deadly force. OK, now having said this, and currently work as an Armed Security Officer for DHS, lets make this clear. Which is something the News Media and these other groups are not making clear. In the United Zoviet Zocializt Republik of Kalivorniagrad, (which has some of the most strict laws), if you shoot someone, that other person had better have a deadly weapon on their person. Yes knives, clubs, baseball bats, pieces of metal pipe, swords, spears or any other type of deadly weapon means that deadly force may be justified. Since Travon was unarmed, even if he made the remark I keep hearing in the news, Zimmerman would not have been justified in shooting Travon unless Travon displayed an overwhealming amount of force, and or multiple individiuals engaged Zimmerman at the same time, (please understand I am taking this from the laws here in my State). Now as a Security Firearm Instructor, from what I can tell Zimmerman was itching for a fight, AND completely disregarded Law Enforcement's advice to discontinue following the suspect. Instead HE escalated this into an unwarranted confrontation, and used deadly force unjustly instead of doing what he was instructed to do and back off, and observe and report from a safe distance, then let Law Enforcement handle the situation. So from my point of view should Zimmerman do time in the Hoosgow? You betcha! Now on the other side of this issue: If you are going to wear clothes that make you look like a street thug, and hang out with those types of people, then you had better plan on being treated accordingly. So if you don't want to be treated like a gang member, or a street thug, then I suggest ditching the clothes, behavior and "friends" who cater to that type of image. Nuff Said!

    April 7, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  6. Reggie from LA

    I wonder how much so that murderer would have wanted to "stand his ground" had he not had a gun in is pocket. OK, just generalizing "pocket". The numbskull should have shot himself in the a$$ or genitals. I understand his "courage" was tucked in his waistband? What a moron. and people who buy his "self defense story are nearly as moronic". "I have a gun in my pants, but I'm gonna scream "help!!" "help!!" He was wired to use that gun on somebody. It's surfaced that he has a history and anger and violence. Wonder why they wouldn't let him on the police force after the assault of an officer was "forgiven". The criminal justice student-law-man-wannabe. State's Attorney is the biggest moron and he's mad at everybody.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Dandy

      Stop speaking out your rear. You have no idea what you are talking about.

      April 7, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Mannycl

      A rather stupid comment.

      April 8, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  7. clark beyer

    if one is to be an instigator in any situation leading to a death whether it be ones own or some one else, then by any logic or reasoning, then that person has committed a crime. The degree and matter of which should be considered by the process of law as defined by the most appropriate system at hand. if for some reason this can not be accomplished it becomes morally paramount that the citizens of that society repair the damages to that society expeditiously.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  8. Jen

    This article inaccurately states the law. There is not always a presumption that one using deadly force had a reasonable fear of death or bodily injury. This presumption only applies in certain situations, such as when an individual is protecting oneself inside his home or vehicle. At least understand the law properly before you try to criticize it.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  9. Mike

    These "stand your ground" laws allows people who can't cut it in law enforcement or doesn't want to actually be a part of law enforcement to go out and and play Dirty Harry/Judge Dredd and want to be hailed as a hero to the community. They have the mentality that Black men are thieves and thugs and act accordingly, resulting in situations like this! If you really want to be in law enforcement, do the work and actually become part of law enforcement!! Thes laws just take us back to the wild west days where anyone can dispense their own interpretation of justice!

    April 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Mannycl

      People are doing what the police is not.

      April 8, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  10. Hmm

    Don't threaten someone with injury or harm, and there will be no need for that someone to stand his ground to protect himself.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  11. George Bush

    It is a little bit safer now in Florida.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  12. Simeon Namore

    The Tea Party and ALEC brought you this. Like it? Note to Florida legislature: Best stay off my lawn. Really. Stay off the lawn.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Hmm

      Don't threaten to injure or harm someone, and no one needs to stand his ground to protect himself.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Marc

      So since you just threatened them I guess they have the right to shoot you under this law now. Better take cover.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  13. walter

    Thank you! Let's boycott Florida..it's dangerous to go there...anyone can shoot you who feels "threatened." Republicans should move their convention to a safer place also.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Hmm

      People who believe in threatening injury and harm to Florida residents SHOULD boycott Florida. Florida will be safer.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  14. Ben

    WRONG! that law has nothing to do with Tryvon's case, your pushing it into that so that you can push your agenda to remove the law, AGAIN that law has nothing to do with this case... I guess I had my hopes to high to think a news group like CNN would have enough integrity to get thier facts straight.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Simeon Namore

      Ben. You're a dimwit.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Marc

      I second that, Ben.. you're a dimwit.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  15. Lee

    Such a misinterpretation of this law. This is not the wild wild west,you cant go around packing a 9mm,confront someone,get into a scuffle,and if you feel your losing the fight pull out a gun and shoot the person. No matter what people think about Trayvon or black people,he had a right to defend himself.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  16. Zimmerman

    The guy is a hero in my book, he stopped the houses from being robbed for he 100th time, you cant rely on the police to save you!!!

    April 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Bill

      The police do a great job .... guys like Zimmerman are looking for trouble and looking for a fight. Trevyon Martin wasnt robbing anyone or anything so what you are saying is a lie.

      April 7, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • George Bush

      Treyvons parents were both criminals with long records, Treyvo was about to be expelled from school after 3 suspensions. Chances are this high school dropout would be a drag on society like most of his family.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  17. Chut Pata

    Per NRA logic Trayvon Martin's fault was that he did not carry a gun. If he had, he would have shot Zimmerman when Zimmerman came after him. All blacks should carry guns and shoot any white guy who follows him. NRA style

    April 6, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Jazz Hands

      Look the day we cant defend ourselves against gang members is the day we lose control of our future.

      April 6, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Bill

      What gang members? Because the kid was black he was in a gang? Are you insane or just pure racist. You have a lot to answer for before Jesus.

      April 7, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Ben

      I don't think he was in a gang but I think the media is leading us visualy in the wrong direction everytime you see a picture of tryvon its his school photo from when he was 6, yes even her on the nobale CNN, not a picture of a 17 year old MAN that he is. they are painting a picture of a victim but there are a lot of questions that havent been answered why was tryvon there in the first place? It wasn't a place he normally hung out at... the known facts are that Zimmerman should have never gone after or followed tryvon he should not have had a gun because he should never put himself close enough to have to defend himself, he should have called the police and told them what he notice and left it alone. Because he didn't a man is dead.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • George Bush

      Would not have mattered, blacks are too stupid to hold the gun the right way, they hold them sideways and can't hit anything but bystanders.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Marc

      lol...

      April 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Hmm

      And if the facts show that Martin came after Zimmerman, Zimmerman justifiably defended himself. An attacker can kill without using a gun.

      Get the facts..not media distortion of the facts...not personal bias about the facts...just the facts. Then follow the course of the case from that point.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  18. whose next

    People seem to not understand the implication of this law. Here is a large strange guy stalking you in the dead of the night and you decide to defend yourself. He could be a rapist, serial killer, who knows, so you end up in a fight with him. he pulls out a gun and shoots you dead and goes free. This means anyone can stalk you, harass you into a confrontation/fight, then can shoot you dead and go free. Yes it could happen to you.

    April 6, 2012 at 12:17 am |
    • KS

      Some of us do understand. Even if this case is exactly what you say it is the ONE case. How about the thousands of innocent people who get shot by bad guys that can't defend themselves by law? Those case happen every hour. Here you MAY have found the ONE incident supporting your position. I have thousands supporting mine. More guns = less crime. It's been proven time and time again. I support concealed carry. I support stand-your-ground laws.

      April 6, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Chut Pata

      In this case Zimmerman was following Trayvon, and if Trayvon had a gun, he would have shot Zimmerman dead, but now he is dead because he was unarmed and could just put up a good fight with Zimmerman. In the end, the man with the gun won.

      April 6, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • April

      Exactly, everyone forgets that Zim was just defending himself....

      April 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Ben

      So manny people are uneducated on the law...the law doesn't defend people who chase down anyone. this event is not labelled under stand your ground. people against the law from the begining are using this situation to demanize the law.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • George Bush

      large? he was a skinny 5-9" guy, Trashvon was 6' tall.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Dandy

      Nice story, except that is not what happened!

      April 7, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  19. occupyevangelicals

    what I wrote today about Pat Buchanan's comments http://occupyevangelicals.org/2012/04/05/pat-buchanan-on-whipped-up-hysteria-over-trayvon-martin-killing/

    April 5, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Bill

      Pat Buchanan is not now nor has he ever been a Christian ... evangelical or otherwise

      April 7, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
      • occupyevangelicals

        Right. I don't think I implied that he was, but if I did, I didn't mean to. His comments just made for a provocative context for the discussion I wanted to have – part of which (a big part actually) is that Evangelicals/evangelicals should care about these kind of issues – and be part of the discussion at the very least. Really, I think evangelicals should be expressing the same kinds of concern about racism, racial profiling, and basic social injustice that I'm raising in this article – which is why it's on my blog.

        April 7, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  20. c

    Enough of this. Start reporting on New Orleans, those poor young black kids need to be helped. They are killing each other and no one cares. Politicians capitalizing on this case in Florida is sickening. Detroit and New Orleans are a mess. Jackson, Sharpton and the rest need to form an organization to help educate young black kids and save them from each other. This is getting pathetic, I mean God rest Trayvons soul, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and Zimmerman wanted to be the hero to catch the 'punks' (the word he actually used ) breaking in the neighborhood 8 times, but enough is enough. We all know this was not racial profiling it was " we have had 8 break-ins and there is someone strolling around in the cold and rain that we dont recognize" So stop with the antagonizing

    April 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Chris

      You are right... nobody cares. Let them continue to kill themselves.

      April 6, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Zimmerman

      Why would we help a bunch of loser killers???

      April 6, 2012 at 4:23 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.