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. RebexXSi

    I have my conceal and carry although I seldom carry. I also keep loaded guns at my bedside. If anyone ever breaks in I have no reservations about shooting an intruder. If you don't want to get shot a) dont break into my house b) stop being a crook. The stand your ground laws are there so you dont have to flee while getting shot in the back by an armed assailant or beaten to a pulp because you weren't allowed to defend yourself. I live near a university – in past 6 months there have been 1 mugging beating a guy over the head with a gun 1 block from my house, 4 home invasions 4 blocks from my house, 2 armed robberies 6 blocks from my house. Any of that comes to my house and I have one answer – boom. No more problem.

    March 29, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • RebexXSi

      I can't wait to kill someone. I fantasize about it.

      March 29, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • what1ever

      This is probably the creepiest thing that I've ever read.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  2. Just_One

    Yeah lets just outlaw guns like Mexico so we can be a peaceful country like Mexico

    March 29, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Great Theory

      They get the guns from America

      March 29, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  3. History Bear

    Law needs to be amended to provide for an investigation to prove it really was self defense. It it is.... you walk. The right of self defense from deadly threat is absolute and no "morality" can justify it otherwise. You defend yourself or you are injured or robbed or killed. The police are often far to late or don't even bother to respond because they are busy somewhere else. I'd rather be tried by twelve than carried by six.

    March 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  4. YBP

    This is clearly the story of two dogs fighting over a bone. One is a troubled drug user/seller from a broken family who was kicked out of school for two weeks (despite earlier news stories painting him as the Christ child), the other a gun-toting, self-deluded hater with a pretty wild imagination. They both had their perceived masculinity at stake, as well as their ethnic superiority. Now one is dead, and the other will soon be brought to justice, either by the police or by the mob. I can't wait to see how the parents of these guys seize upon the book and movie rights.

    March 29, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  5. TheTruth

    "An invitation to kill" ???? This seems to be the only controversial incident in the 7 year history of the bill (in a state with 20,000,000 people). Rhetoric masquerading as fact?

    March 29, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • what1ever

      Uh, clearly the point was, that if people didn't make such a big deal about it, we never would have even found out about it. There have probably been hundreds of cases like this.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  6. hammerheadz

    In my opinion Mr. Queen believes he is smarter and has a better understanding of all the difficult particulars associated with these laws and cases considered in the making of them. It is so easy to come down on the side of some position you may believe is portrayed by a particular case, more especially when you do not know the facts. I do not know the facts either but I do know that in America both sides are inncent until proven otherwise. Your bafoonery is less than informed and less than entertaining. It comes down on the side of lawlessness.

    March 29, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  7. TDiddy

    I will always stand my ground...and I would be more than happy to shoot and kill some teenage punk who was coming after me...I have NO problem with that at all. I would sleep just fine at night.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • cc

      You're an idiot.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Tom

      You're missing the point. With this law a teenage punk can shoot you dead, have his friend punch him a few times, claim you did it, and he gets off scott-free. The police can't ecven investigate if he's lying!

      The right of self-defense is a sacred right, but this law is just plain dumb.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Linda Courtright

      You are a pitiful example of a human being.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  8. Bad

    Quote of the day "Those who live by the sword....get shot by those who don't" thanks to Rick Shultz

    March 29, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  9. Rick Shultz

    This nonsense spouted by Alien what's his face about "You don't shoot an unarmed man. Fight like a man if you are going to go around asking for trouble." is pure BS. There is no such thing as a fair fight. Somebody wins and somebody loses. And that happens because one of the combatants has an advantage. ALIEN whoever you are you need to get over the notion of rules and chivalry. Those who live by the sword....get shot by those who don't. That's the way it is and that's the way it's always going to be.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  10. gkingii

    There is and always has been a national understanding that when there is a threat or perception of threat to us and our loved ones, it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to end the threat. That includes, but is not limited to becoming the aggressor.
    To do anything else but the best we can to remove the threat is cowardice, and the opposite of ethical. There is no "duty to flee" and there never will be. Granted, it sometimes is the only option, but only sometimes.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  11. Jim

    If you judge by the FACTS and Evidence thus far released to the public, instead of spin and emotional hand-wringing, The person that started the physical confrontation that lead to the shooting was the person that caused TM's death. So far, That person is Sadly TM himself, in striking RZ.
    When you start a fight with someone, you rarely know how well the fight will turn out. The other person might be a pushover, they might have wrestled/played football in higschool (like TM), they might be a MMA fighter... thy might also have a weapon AND happen to have the willingness to use it.
    It's understandable that TM's parents are pointing fingers... they lost a child. Everyone else pointing fingers? They are trying to make points off the dead guy's back, be they political points, issue points, personal career points or even facebook/reddit/blog points. Sad statement of our nation's path.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  12. April

    We need to start from the top down if we want to end the violence–just look at our foreign policy under this administration–Our foreign policy is no different than that law in Florida that allowed the shooting of Trayvon. We hunt down people that are running away from us, that say they are innocent of any wrong doing, but they look similar to someone scary, so we take them out –with firepower or drones–and sometimes they are just innocent children–little boys and girls that would look like our presidents son–but those drones don't differentiate. No one gives the numbers of children that have lost their lives at the hands of our foreign policy–in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq and Egypt.They are Trayvon!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  13. lee s

    "Ethics" are nice warm and fuzzy and all. But are you going to rely on a complete strangers and all the evil doers you read about every day in the news to uphold the same moral obligations? You would be a fool to believe such a thing. The classroom is a nice comfortable place, but eh real world is ugly and scary. There is no debating that.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  14. lee s

    "In promoting “stand your ground” laws, self-proclaimed conservatives become grossly irresponsible radicals,". lol, and if you get robbed or someone breaks into your house with malintent and you dont have a gun, you become tomorrow mornings blip on the news radar for break in/murder.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  15. Guy Couch

    Zimmerman wouldn't have been prosecuted under the former version of the law, either, as (his story goes) he was being beaten by a physically larger person and in fear for his life with no hope of retreat. He responded with deadly force.

    'Stand Your Ground' was not necessary as an element of his defense. He was in fear for his life, he could not retreat, nobody was coming to his aid, and so on. (His story goes.)

    March 29, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • expatpatfan

      Physically bigger? Zimmerman outweighed him by roughly 100 lbs...

      March 29, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  16. sharkfisher

    If somone tries to break into my home ,I WILL shoot to kill. If somone attacks me ,I will shoot. I'll take my chances with a jury.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • The 666 Club

      Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

      Intelligence changes things for the better. Religion for the worse.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:47 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 5:18 pm |
    • cc

      CAn you please stop posting that dumb stuff. It doesn't work. Keep your religious belief to yourself please.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things

      March 29, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • CC

      I keep praying that you stop posting this non sense but here you are going at it again. It isn't proven dumb dumb. You can't prove anything about God. That's why the lies work.

      March 29, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • just sayin

      There is more evidence for God than there is for you.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  18. Flipper

    5th Amendment – Provisons concerning prosecution

    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

    to the author: What was your statement about "Florida’s law in particular remade the very nature of self-defense, turning what had been an “affirmative defense” into a presumption of innocence."

    March 29, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  19. jimmy

    i notice mr queen does not seem to have a law degree...thus one can understand his lack of legal knowledge. for example, under the common law, there already is no duty to retreat in a large number of states...this is not something brand new in florida. secondly, shifting the burden of proof does not mean "any liar" can concoct a story, even w/o the victim being alive to testify. in a wrongful death action against a doctor, for example, the victim is dead yet the victim's representative still bears the burden of proof, yet the doctor can't just "concoct a stody" and escape liability. i don't like the "stand your ground" law but i doubt mr zimmerman even knew what it was. he bears responsibility for mr martin's death, not legislators merely writing legislation. let's keep responsibility where it belongs. surely, mr queen, even having a fake occupation like "ethicist", you should be able to understand that.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  20. matt

    Welcome to the NRA's America. They are the ones truly responsible for this law. Hopefully their zealotry for returning us to the lawless wild west where every person has a gun and is encouraged to use it backfires and helps us balance the firearms debate to the side of sanity again.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • melvinslizard

      I hope you never need a gun to defend yourself or your family. Then again, you'd rather stand by and let your "ethics" take care of you, right? Good luck with that!

      March 29, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • El

      I suggest you leave the country then, because you're not stopping us.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
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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.