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. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 30, 2012 at 7:37 am |
    • Jesus

      You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. 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.

      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 30, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  2. verybaddog

    To be sure, the taking of a human life is a delicate and pitfall subject, and The Stand Your Ground Law is as delicate as well, however, the Stand Your Ground Law was NOT meant to be used to 'hunt someone down' and terminate them, it was meant as a last resort to self defense, Zimmerman should be arrested, tried, convicted and then taken out back and hanged on the same day... But, getting back to the killing of another huan being(yeah,yeah,yeah...Judicial hanging does the same thing)MY Take is THIS; I don't go looking for trouble, so I have lived by the credo, Don't start none, there won't be none! But...and there is always that But: Break into my home, you're not supposedf to be there, I WON'T kill you, I'll cripple you for life, that way, you live with the consequences of your actions...ergo, I have stood my ground AND meted out fair and imparttial justice...thereby doing away with the dog and pony show this Trayvon Martin thing has caused and I will be

    March 30, 2012 at 6:46 am |
  3. verybaddog

    To be sure, the taking of a human life is a delicate and pitfall subject, and The Stand Your Ground Law is as delicate as well, however, the Stand Your Ground Law was NOT meant to be used to 'hunt someone down' and terminate them, it was meant as a last resort to self defense, Zimmerman should be arrested, tried, convicted and then taken out back and hanged on the same day... But, getting back to the killing of another huan being(yeah,yeah,yeah...Judicial hanging does the same thing)MY Take is THIS; I don't go looking for trouble, so I have lived by the credo, Don't start none, there won't be none! But...and there is always that But: Break into my home, you're not supposedf to be there, I WON'T kill you, I'll cripple you for life, that way, you live with the consequences of your actions...ergo, I have stood my ground AND meted out fair and imparttial justice...thereby doing away with the dog and pony show this Trayvon Martin thing has caused and I will be

    March 30, 2012 at 6:46 am |
  4. Meh

    "Stand your ground" laws are just fine. They keep people from having to prove their innocence, such as a jogger attacked in a park using deadly force to protect herself or someone jumped at a gas station. Everyone has a right to defend themselves. However, what too many people miss, is that "stand your ground" doesn't apply in this case because Zimmerman forced the confrontation. The law would have favored Trayvon had Zimmerman assaulted him.

    (Yes, I understand that Trayvon probably went off the handle at some fat rent-a-cop trying to play Lone Ranger and there's no real excuse for that, but had Zimmerman known his place and kept it, no problems would have arisen and we'd never have known his name. Now if Trayvon had accosted Zimmerman in his car, maybe then Zim would have had a case for self defense. Maybe.)

    Zimmerman can't cry self-defense for initiating a conflict he had no business with in the first place, and it would be more helpful if the talking heads on CNN, CBS, and wherever else they are would leave politics and agendas out of this and focus on reporting facts. We need to find out why it happened so it can be prevented from happening again, and that any guilty parties get what the law says they have coming.

    March 30, 2012 at 2:56 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Bang on. This entire incident was instigated by wannabe cop Zimmerman playing neighbourhood patrol guy. Without identifying clothing or badge to alert anyone that he was any type of authority figure. What eventually occurred is totally moot. If Zimmerman had minded his own business Trayvon would be alive. Also the laws concerning carrying a concealed weapon are different for security guards or law enforcement individuals and require separate and specific permits. He ignored instructions from the 911 dispatcher and whatever statement he gave to police detailing the event is entirely one-sided since young Martin is dead and can't give his side of the story. Eyewitness accounts are contradictory and this entire affair is a total mess. But in the end this is a tragedy that should never have happened from the get go.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:56 am |
    • Epidi

      Absolutely agree.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:24 am |
  5. JPowers

    Boy this guy is named right.
    Hey Queenie, If you want to cower in the corner like a giant pu$$y, Then so be it.
    I on the other hand would rather not have to live in fear.
    As a legally licensed concealed carry citizen of Florida, I am glad I have no fear of prosecution when I gun down a thug that I feel is threating me or others.
    I carry becaue, "When SECONDS count, cops are just MINUTES away"

    March 30, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • what1ever

      Except you're the one gunning down innocent people. YOU'RE the thug that's threatening others.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • JPowers

      Never shot an innocent one, Just the felons.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • what1ever

      That's EXACTLY how the guy who murdered Treyvon Martin thought, when he shot some kid for being black in his neighborhood.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • JPowers

      He didn't shoot him for being black, He shot him for being a punk.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • what1ever

      A "punk" who did absolutely nothing wrong.

      March 30, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • John

      You're an idiot and an a**hole. I hope you go down for murder one day. Have fun in the pen.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:06 am |
    • themainevent

      you guys are clowns. you most likely don't understand guns at all. i don't blame you, you probably didn't grow up around them. neither did i. but like this guy said, why wait for cops? especially crooked ones like these. if everyone's a cop, who's gonna commit a crime? ya understand? right to bear arms isn't that hard to understand.

      zimmermans an idiot btw. typical american paranoia. pray for the family of this young man, but learn from it.

      and also i hate that the news networks keep putting pics of trayvon when he was 12. thats propaganda bud.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  6. Bradley

    Stand your Ground laws are not an invitation to murder. A woman who gets attacked while jogging in the park and then kills or fends off her attacker deserves the protection of the Law. I for one am glad that there are laws who provide individual protections for situations just like that.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  7. Reality

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:-------->>>>>>>>>>>>>

    The 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 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 hoodies in their facilities.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • what1ever

      Uh, do you go outside?! Of course there are a lot of crimes committed by people wearing hoodies, everyone under the age of forty owns at least a couple. That would be like saying "do you know how many crimes are committed by people with noses?" It was really Martin's fault because he clearly had a nose on his face.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Hoodiephobia

      I have uncovered a disturbing fact: Virtually all crimes are committed by people . . . wearing shoes. Ban shoes and crime will end! The problem is the shoes!

      March 30, 2012 at 4:51 am |
    • Reality

      Noses and shoes do not hide faces from security cameras. Hoodies do.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  8. Erin

    Thou shall not kill.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Star Tripper

      People please!!! Blame can ONLY be placed on the society we have created in our society to accept NO responsibility for our actions. Everything is always somebody fault but not ours!! Instead of ranting about the injustice – maybe we should try teaching respect for others instead of "tolerance," get rid of the hatred for a person unlike ourselves. I know this has been common practice for a long long time, and I pray nightly for evolution to PLEASE catch up.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  9. Alex

    Gangsters are criminals. They have certain attire that they like to wear for whatever reason. Who knows why an who cares. If you want to dress like them, then that is a risk that you take. Buy the ticket, take the ride. There are no refunds. Reckless behavior on both parties seems to have created one heck of a show. So from now on kids, unless its raining or cold out, keep your hoods down; Be better than the layabout POS "thugs" out there. they are not who you want to be. If you do you see where you will end up.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • what1ever

      I am more threatened by people like you than all the gangs in the world.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • julia

      Ummm, it WAS raining when Trayon had his hoodie on. What planet do you live on? Bigoted, conservative hate speech.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • James

      My son who is 11 and has no idea what a gang-banger is owns and wears hoodies. I've bought him hoodies for him to wear, because he likes them and they are a good outer layer when it's not too warm or too cold outside. I think it is wrong to say that just because you are wearing a hoodie then you must be up to no good.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  10. Absurduistan

    Well, I hope this "man" never happens to be walking down the street and gets entrapped a group of people out to just beat up somone because they are bored and want to post it to YouTube. No reason to add race. There are plenty of posts on YouTube of people from various races who have done this. Obviously, the wisdom of centuries would have Mr Queen simply curling up like a little baby and letting them beat him to a bloody pulp. Mr Queen should also hope that no one accidentally hits him in the head too many times.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  11. what1ever

    Trayvon Martin's mother should sue the people involved in creating this law for everything that they're worth. They are accomplices in a murder and a hate crime. They deserve everything that they get.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • what1ever

      Treyvon Martin was murdered, his only crime was being black, in Florida that earned him the death penalty. The United States is probably the sickest country ever conceived by human beings.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • JPowers

      Instead of suing she should be telling other mothers to teach their kids some manners.
      Besides, she's making plenty selling i am trayvon dvds and t-shirts

      March 30, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  12. Ben

    Hogwash and nonsense! Why should you or I have an "obligation" to run away from thugs? Why should gang bangers be allowed to rule the streets? Police are not there to protect you, they are there to take a report once a crime has been commited. When seconds count, the police are only hours away.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • what1ever

      Do you attacked by skittle wielding thugs a lot?

      March 29, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Star Tripper

      Attacking someone for NO reason, even after being told by police to STOP and not do anything – this is ok with you?

      March 30, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • JPowers

      911 dispatcher is not usually police and have no authority to order you to do anything, Genius.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  13. Trey

    im gonna stand my ground whether you say I can or not

    March 29, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • Frank Rizzo

      and you should

      March 29, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  14. Frank Rizzo

    you want to be a thug , teeth grilling , pants on the ground , drug attc gangster ,, well you may get shot

    March 29, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Frank Rizzo

      and apparently the sanford police think the same way

      March 29, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  15. Nuevo Cicero

    Only an invitaion to kill those that deserve it.
    The law is not the problem, I have every right to defend myself and I will!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • worktolive


      March 29, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • what1ever

      Uh, please tell me you're joking right? Trayvon Martin didn't deserve to die (obvoiusly.)

      March 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  16. Bert BigDongle

    What a lovely unbiased photo selection to lead off this opinion piece!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  17. Robyn Harris

    Like all illogical propositions, this one comes with its own built in balance.

    Any person can approach Mr. Zimmerman, say they felt their life was in danger,
    (a reasonable proposition since he killed the last stranger he met)
    and kill Mr. Zimmerman with absolute confidence in their immediate acquital.

    Then Mr. Zimmerman's killer can be murdered in the same way; and so on;
    and so on; and so on. A cycle of violence forever and ever, Amen.

    Is this what we have become?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  18. Keith

    People like Queen will not be satisfied until the criminals have more rights than law abiding citizens. He says we should just run away and not hurt them. Personally, if I or my family are threatened by some dirt bag and I am more well armed than he is, the sucker is dead.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Hey, witless, have you figured out that Obama isn't a Muslim yet?


      Then shut up, ya stupid git.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • Cal Peter

      Actually, that was the point. Criminals are now protected. The criminal who wants to kill someone now has a legal mechanism to get away with it.

      Note that if your family was in your home and threatened, you can still use deadly force. If your family was threatened and you did not have any option but to use deadly force, that is still self defense. However, if you can just get out of the way and avoid a situation all together, why not? Why would you want to put your family in danger? You assume that you are more capable than the other(s) and would survive and kill the individual(s). I think it is really irresponsible to put your family in harm's way and "stand your ground".

      March 29, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Well, you have to know that Keith is an incredibly stupid dolt who is more interested in swinging his balls around than in actually thinking or reasoning.

      He's so dumb he believes Obama is Muslim. He can't prove it, but he'll go down in a blaze of glory asserting that it's true.

      Keith=Idiots Are Him

      March 30, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • Keith

      TTPS, lol...Right now some OTHER guy named Keith is wondering who the hell is this TTPS and what the hell is she rambling on about? lol....

      March 30, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  19. Mark

    The author makes the valid point that centuries of law have evolved to address the doctrine of self-defense (and by extension provocation) and these Stand Your Ground Laws serve no purpose except to invite more killings. I'm disappointed this tragedy has been clouded by race and gun control – it is neither of these things. A kid is dead because a self-appointed vigilante took the "law" – his law, into his own hands.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Ellis

      Im glad some people can see what is really going on...There is no justification for Zimmerman Killing this Kid...I will say this Justice has failed...and continues to fail everyone...

      March 29, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • Bradley

      I don't think that Mr. Zimmerman understood the stand your ground law at all. The law states that if you are occupying a piece of ground and your life is threatened, or someone is trying to remove you from it, then you do not have the duty to retreat. Simply put, if I am attacked in my home, or in a parking lot and I injure or kill my attacker i will not be charged for any wrongdoing. If however, i injure or kill someone because I overreacted and followed them down the street, thus causing them to feel threatened then in my opinion I deserve whatever I get.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:17 am |
    • Big guy

      Bradley I don't think you understand the stand your ground law no where does it say any thing about someone trying to remove you from a piece of ground. It says if someone is trying to cause you great bodily harm you don't have to retreat first. But simply someone trying to remove you from where you stand and you shoot them you are a going to jail and rightly so.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  20. John

    I should run so I can get shot in the back. There is nothing wrong with self-defense, however, it should be proven.

    March 29, 2012 at 9:30 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.