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. papals1

    man made laws actually doesn't mean one is guilty or not. this fact has been observed from time to time and in this case why would G Zimmerman go asking for trouble and end up shooting somebody. he has no reason whatsoever to follow,chase, or confront Martin. After all he is no trained police officer himself. He should go to jail for either murdering somebody or being plain stupid.

    April 9, 2012 at 1:36 am |
  2. Sheepless

    Logically, the only way to determine how seriously-injured you might be would be to allow yourself to be maximally injured. The same goes for threat of deadly force. I seriously doubt that this law is being systematically utilized to commit murder. This is the same inane, defective "logic" applied by Brady. I suspect that the balance of good in "stand your ground" outweighs the balance of evil. I would invite the author to be beaten, bludgeoned, stabbed, and shot until he can find an exquisite balance in his pontifications.

    April 9, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  3. smilidon

    If you look at the (unaltered) pictures of Zimmermans head and face before he was cleaned up by the paramedics you would see his nose sideways and his face full of blood. Also this is not a white/black thing he was LATINO people need to stop pretending somehow this is white/black its just retarded and makes you look dumb. There's no reason I should have to run if someone attacks me if I'm not at home I will punch them until dead if i can and I should be able to.

    April 9, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • Dolly

      What unalterated pictures? They have not been published anywhere. You are making things up better known as lying!

      April 9, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  4. Big D

    Too many young people worshiping sites that feature phone videos of brutal attacks by teens. They think it empowers them to be feared creatures. Some of them find out the hard way that looking like a gangsta can come at a price. Also, there's no reason for a neighborhood watch person to be carrying a weapon or in pursuit of anyone. Just having the weapon isn't the problem, and just pursuing isn't the problem, but when you pursue knowing your plan B is to kill, you've put yourself into the role of a peace officer and that doesn't need to happen.

    April 8, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  5. Michael

    My Ethics: 'Stand your ground' laws discourage assaults.

    April 8, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • cruzing 9382


      April 8, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  6. insanityinblue

    The FL statute 776.013 appears to limit its scope by a term dictionary that proves specific and somewhat uncommon definitions of Dwelling, Residence and Vehicle. To me it appears that if Trayvon was not under a roof (of a home, porch, tent, hotel bedroom, or vehicle) the shooter has a very poor defense under this law as it is written.

    Furthermore, Section 2b, provided that it can be argued that Trayvon was still a child, would mean this law would not provide any defense of Zimmerman's actions.

    April 8, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  7. Lumen Veritatis

    "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."

    Learn to read: outside of the home, all the Florida law does is codify this "reasonableness" requirement without eliminating any of the other traditional self-defense elements except the duty to retreat (a minority rule in the US, I might add). Quit the incendiary misinformation.

    April 8, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  8. tardacus

    The stand your ground law is nothing more than a law that rewards you for eliminating the only witness to your crime.

    April 8, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  9. Iqbal Khan


    April 8, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  10. Master

    This pu$$y was posted again! Why he makes me SICK!

    April 8, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  11. Paul

    People have the right to defend themselves from human trash like this.

    April 8, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Johnny Yuma61


      April 8, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  12. Paul

    Attention Morons. The only person responsible for the thugs death is Travon himself.

    April 8, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Paul

      And get that ugly smirking mug off the page. He's a thug and got what was coming to him.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • No Nonsense Noreen

      Really Paul? Exactly what made him a thug? His race? His wearing a hoodie like a lot of WHITE boys here in MN do? The fact that he was walking though a neighborhood talking on a cell phone with his tea and candy? Being targeted and chased by a man threatening him with a gun? Serious? Or is this the stance you and your local KKK (which you OBVIOUSLY are a member) portray? What was Trayvon's actual crime that cost him his life? Take your racist rhetoric and spew it at your local KKK meeting, not here where intelligent people actual like to read educated peoples opinions.

      April 8, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Very Sensible Victor

      No sense Noreen – since when did we know anything about Zimmerman "threatening him with a gun"? And how do you know that Martin was ONLY speaking on his phone carrying his tea and candy and not possibly up to no good?

      It sounds to me like you were there and witnessed first hand! Why haven't you come forward yet? You have all of the facts it seems...

      An aside: since when does possessing Skittles and iced tea immediately render one incapable of violent acts? Why have so many concluded that this kid couldn't possibly be up to no good because he had a bag of little fruit flavored candies? Honestly (and sadly), that's one of the aspects of this ridiculous debacle that blows my mind the most... I don't believe the sale of candy is restricted to non-violent criminals so how about we all forget about the candy and iced tea?

      April 8, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  13. Logan

    Similar laws in other state have been Very successful in deterring crimes. Not many home robberies and break-ins after the first few were shot dead by the homeowner.

    April 8, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • No Nonsense Noreen

      Really Logan? Sure, but if you actually followed the case you would be aware that Trayvon was simply walking through a neighborhood, not breaking into a house. Educate yourself first!

      April 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  14. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    George Zimmermann thought the Stand Your Ground Law was the Pursue, Confront, Provoke and Execute Law.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  15. brunette_barbie_SC

    seriously, just love how the media twists and turns everything. Why? to get more ratings. Why? so advertisers pay them a ton. MESSED UP

    April 8, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  16. Grey

    The media is portraying Trayvon as a perfect angel I have not met many 17 year old males who weren't walking around with chips on their shoulders, No this child should have not been killed and zimmerman should have kept his distance. The stand your ground laws need to be better defined, citizens need to stand up for themselves instead of backing down from criminals, zimmerman went looking for a confrontation and was not properly trained. and those who want to play the race card need to look harder at their own race and concider that if this is your only argument than your race is the one with the issues

    April 8, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  17. PhilG


    "Stand Your Ground " laws are just fine.

    It is the actions of the people who use them to kill people instead of defending themselves from attack that are the problem.

    If the law DID THEIR JOB in investigating the Trevon case and arrested Zimmerman when his statements simply did not add up,we would'nt even be debating the law.

    The law is fine-it's PEOPLE who need a head check and training when it and in what real life situations it applies.

    And the law is no excuse for the local police being TOO LAZY to investigate a case.

    April 8, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • ScottyB

      "Stand your ground" saved Zimms life.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • cruzing 9382

      SCOTTY B. That's B>S>

      April 8, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • cruzing 9382

      The article above states that the STAND YOUR GROUND law prohibits the police from making an arrest and investing once the KILLER asserts a self-defence claim. That's what's wrong with this law. Anyone can commit murder and get away with it simply by claiming self-defence. That's what the article above saids.

      April 8, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  18. mikeoh


    April 8, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • kamana kapu

      REPLY to Scotty B.
      Zimmerboy's life was not in danger; he's EGO was! Zimm shot Martin to SAVE FACE and LOOK GOOD!

      April 8, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  19. SekemetKali

    The true architects of Trayvon Martin's killing will not go unpunished. Man made laws will never supersede the Laws of Mother Nature as jesus christ will never supersede the father of liars who created him. What concerns me most is the conjuring of lies by police officers, cops, pigs, and police departments that think they or whoever they choose can get away with murder and not properly arrest someone for committing a crime.

    April 8, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  20. Dufus

    Hmm, maybe there IS a reason to kill!

    April 8, 2012 at 9:57 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.