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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. John McGraw

    Just more liberal babble, that does not stand up to scrutiny! If Zimmerman was truly getting his head bashed against the sidewalk, as reported, he would have been legally within his rights to shoot the kid, even without the "stand your ground" law. We have a law that is even less restrictive in Texas, and we do not have innocent people getting gunned down in the streets! We do however, have some criminals that occasionally get shot, but I would rather have criminals get shot by innocent civilians, then the other way around! This has been the law in Texas for well over 100 years, and it works well for us. Law abiding citizens deserve the ability to protect themselves from criminals, as the police clearly can't be relied on to be everywhere.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  2. thort

    I could care less what you want for your pansy a$$, if a boy comes up to me with a hoodie on, I anticipate I will have to protect myself, irregardless of your silly politically correct bs. I think your arguments are trite and politicized with the black ghetto card displayed prominently. I can assure you I do not appreciate the grossly slanted multimedia sideshow that Trayvon has garnered, he was a problem in school, a problem with Zimmerman, was 6'3" tall, hardly a little boy. The problem is that too many African Americans are seeing this as a "racist" issue even though NO ONE knows that facts in this case. Race pimps like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have winged their way down their to stir hate like they always do and criminals like the Black Panthers are trying to start a race war over the issue.... but none of that is talked about by African Americans. This Trayvon kid also had all sort of tweets where he used the "n" word, denigrated women, and called himself a thug. He was also kicked out of school for drugs.
    The kid was no innocent. Yet, none of these facts that show that Trayvon might have been a trouble maker and thug are being talked about by all these "outraged" African Americans. But the race pimps sure have merely by the fact that a black person is dead. That is not enough for any sane person to assign guilt, but race pimps don't need truth and logic. They need hate stirred, not dispassionate truth.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  3. Han

    The law should stay, but it shouldn't impede the police's ability to gather facts. If you shoot someone in self-defense, the fact should support you in court and prove your innocence.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  4. Thisisnutz

    sa88394

    March 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  5. B

    600,000 black on white crimes in the USA every single year. Why doesn't Soledad O'Brien do a special on that? Is it because it would expose the truth about black behavior and justify racial profiling of blacks? I think so. CNN does not want you to know the truth, they want you to swallow their pro black dogma.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  6. D Palmer

    "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."

    Tradition? Feel free to provide some historical data to back that contention up.

    My right to defend myself should not be limited to inside my home. I can and will defend myself vigorously whenever and wherever I must. It is time to stop giving the aggressors greater rights than their victims. You do not have the right to attack me nor do you have the right to flee after you have done so.

    Even with the additional details that have dribbled out regarding the Zimmerman/Martin case I still place the primary responsibility for Martin's death on Zimmerman. HE was the one who pursued Martin, HE was the one who disregarded direct police instructions to stop doing so. If someone was shadowing me while I was walking down the sidewalk at night I would aggressively confront him/her too.

    Police cannot be everywhere and protect everyone. We must be free to defend ourselves. It may well be that Stand Your Ground needs to be refined, but repealed? Absolutely not.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Allen

      Being followed is never justification for attacking someone. The other person has the right to defend themselves once you enter into their space. You sound like a smart person you should know that. A community watch as the right to observe and report, sounds like what Zimmerman was doing. If someone is not breaking the law you are not obligated to do as the police asks.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  7. B

    Stand your ground law doesn't apply to the Martin case. It has always been legal to defend yourself when physically attacked as Zimmerman was.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  8. Allen

    Luckily liberal dogma is starting to crumble under its own oppressive weight. People like the author would strip everyone of their rights. Only those things he and those of a like mind found suitable to them would be allowed. Stand your ground laws are like any other, someone will use the law to shield themselves from wrong doing. That is the unfortunate thing about law, it is the law. Time will tell if Zimmerman was acting in self-defense or not. I think it is strange that all the hype is quietly going away. I would make a bet that it is being found out he was telling the truth. He followed the guy, lost him, and was assaulted when he returned to his truck.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  9. lunchbreaker

    If you actually read the entirity of the law cited in the article, whoever won the fight gets of sctt free. If both individuals felt threatened they were BOTH justified in using deadly force.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  10. Ike Hall

    It appears that Professor Queen would so handicap the right of self-defense as to make a mockery of it. While I agree that the most reasonable thing to do in such a situation is to flee, one doesn't always have that option. I also seriously doubt that the police would be much deterred by the "Stand Your Ground" law from asking the person with the gun what happened.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  11. coltdefender45

    Mr. Edward L. Queen II in reading your article I completely understand that the taking of another life should be the last resort in protecting one's self, property, and family. However, you didn't mention that Mr. Zimmerman had a broken nose and trauma to the back of his head. I don't think he did this to himself. This of course needs to be proven and we haven't heard all the facts. I believe there was a witness to this. But, realize, that if you are beaten up by being punched or kicked and you are in fear for your life, or bodily injury then you have a right to protect yourself by any means. If you think the police will always be there to save the day by dialing 911, you're mistaken. I was a volunteer in a Florida PD, these departments are understaffed and sometimes can take 10, 20, 45 min before they arrive on scene. Which is why MILLIONS of individuals have purchased firearms. To protect themselves. I am one of those individuals and I hope the day never comes where I have to use my weapon but if I do, I'm making sure I'm the one going home to my family.
    The taking of another life should always be the last resort as I stated. Now all the Gun Control pundits will come out of the woodwork calling for more laws which are useless and everyone will make this a racist situation.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Thumper

      What Zimmerman did has nothing to do with self defense and everything to do with stalking someone and inviting attack. If someone was stalking you for an extended period of time, you might also feel the need to take proactive measures and hit that person with the nearest hard object to try to dissuade them from continuing to stalk you.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • B

      Thumper, in a civilized society we don't assault people. Martin could have ignored Zimmerman or called the police but instead he acted black and assaulted Zimmerman and died due to his own stupidity.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Thisisnutz

      B, "acted black"?? I know what you mean but that is racist. Anyone would act that way. We can't help though that the media decides to mostly report about the black community that does it as well. The Media has the power to create and inflame issues, it's so sad.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  12. julie

    I think its natural for a person to go to the extreme when they feel they are in danger. I don't think people -their brains-actually kick in and they start to reason. You also have to take into account (or not) a person's background.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  13. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 29, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • B

      Praying is like a rocking chair, it will give you something to do but it won;t get you anywhere. Making silent wishes changes nothing at all.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • B

      Praying is like a rocking chair, it will give you something to do but it won't get you anywhere. Making silent wishes changes nothing at all.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Jesus

      `Lying is a sin, you've been proven a liar over and over again on this blog. A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      Plus don't forget. The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.! .`

      March 29, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  14. Mr Max

    Wow. I didn't know you could stalk, chase down and kill anyone with a deadly weapon in Florida and get off scott free by claiming self defense if the person tried to fight back, or by merely by alleging the person fought back. I served 5 years in prison in NYC for slashing a man in the neck (inadvertently) with a letter opener who attacked me feining that he had a gun. My public defender told me I couldn't claim self defense because I wasn't litterally cornered with no escape and had a duty to run from the conflict so I plead guilty. As such, I can see the logic behind the "stand your ground" law, but this is rediculous in Florida. The one who was "standing his ground" in this case was Trayvon Martin, not the guy chasing him with a 9mm gun for no apparent reason. Walking around wearing a hoodie is not reason to be targeted and confronted by an armed stranger.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • MFH1957

      How would you know, you weren't there and there is conflicting reports on every aspect of this.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • B

      Why don't you believe the black 14 year old eyewitness who saw Martin on top of Zimmerman and Zimmerman screaming for help?

      March 29, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  15. realfastbill

    This article repeatedly states that Zimmerman was not, and could not be arrested or questioned. Yet I watched a video on this very website this morning showing Zimmerman being escorted in handcuffs at the police station to give his story. Sounds like arrest and questioning to me...

    March 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  16. Charles Alexander

    The whole situation is not connected to the law, Trayvon's Hoodie, George Zimmerman's over zealousnous in pursuit of his position as Neighborhood watch, but in lack of basic Human communication. If Mr. Zimmerman had immediately approached Trayvon and asked, "Do you live in this neighborhood"? Then likely the response might have been, "No man, I just been to the store getting tea and skittles." Then Mr. Zimmerman could have responded with, "Thank you, have a nice day". Lack of training and abuse of assumed inforcement caused this tradgedy, and only instruction an direction can prevent future issues.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  17. MFH1957

    I have never read such a slanted full of lies opinion ever. One death does not mean a tradition of self protection needs to be regulated by more laws. Quotes like "invite to kill" are extreme opinions by a weak individual. Wait until you are a victim of violent crime, then comment. I was a victim, now I carry, always. I will stand my ground.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Spdracr39

      The whole article is liberal BS.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Feast of Beast

      Well said. I whole-heartedly disagree with the author of the article. I've carried a gun for 20 years in Florida without incident. What scares me is a return to the days before "stand your ground", when Floridians were prosecuted for saving their lives with guns even though common sense would tell you that was their only chance for survival, but the law only saw that their attackers were unarmed and thus "victims". I like to use the example of a 100-pound secretary in a dark parking garage being expected to wait until she is at the point of "serious bodliy harm or death" before shooting a 300-pound rapist, like he'll conveniently stop his attack long enough for her to get her gun out. This is the risk that the people of Florida face everyday from ten's of thousands of violent felons that roam our society. Nothing about the Martin case has changed that. Changing the self-defense laws only makes them criminal-friendly again. The author brings up what is supposed to be a horrifying fact for us about the increase in "justifiable homicides." Good, that's people shooting bad guys and I don't have problem with that at all. Of course, no one says anything about the specifics of those homicides, including this clown.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  18. Observer

    Looks like you're yet another of the sort that hopes to attract attention of any kind.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  19. Kramer

    Gosh, people.....relax. This feral nig was gonna get capped sooner or later. The Jew media sure has gone out of their way to only show 4-year-old pictures of the chimp when he was cuter.....it's all so disgusting.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Observer

      Looks like you're yet another of the sort that hopes to attract attention of any kind. Good or bad.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • The GOAT

      A professional idiot this guy is.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • longshot

      dnftt

      March 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  20. fu9l

    Traditionally, the law understood deadly force to be justified in self-protection only.. THIS IN ITSELF IS A LIE THE LAW READ LIFE LIMB OR PROPERTY THIS IS WHAT IT ORG. WAS THE WEINNIES CHANGED IT TO FIT THERE NEEDS HOWEVER TEXAS SAW PAST THE WEINNIES AND THE LAW THERE WAS NEVER CHANGED YOU CAN STILL KILL OVER PROPERTY AND WHY NOT WHY SHOULD I OR ANYONE ELSE SUFFER OR HAVE TO BE A BIG PUSS AND RUN AWAY.. FOR THOSE WHO THINK THE LAW IS BAD MOVE TO CANADA WE DONT WANT YOU HERE......

    March 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Rod Brind

      Unfortunately the United States is just one big armed camp. Forget health care for all citizens , who cares that the USA has to invade countries all over the world in the name of OIL. Who cares that the USA economy is a disaster and has been for more than a decade. Gee I wonder if it has anything to do with the cost of the invasions and occupations?? In another 20 years the USA will be just another third world country. Ooops , I suppose it already is when you look at the decaying cities and the millions of people who live in poverty. Alas all is well though as long as the GUNS don,t get taken away. Good luck!!

      March 29, 2012 at 2:50 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.