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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. Exploit The Tragedy

    The only "idiocy" to date is the politcal posturing by the willfully ignorant of reality, like this University useful idiot. Zimmermann's attorney has stated the "Stand your Ground" law does not apply to his client's situation...... Those with any commonsense will wait until all the facts become public and the law enforcement and judicial system is given a chance to complete its difficult task. For those with narrow, utopian fantasies, they can try to shamelessly exploit this horrific tragedy- blame the "Stand your ground" law, blame gun control laws, blame racism, blame conservatives, etc. BTW: Zimmermann is a Registered Democrat.

    March 31, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  2. loulou

    bad law
    defending yourself is not wrong,
    but this law helps build fear and paranoia
    you need to protect the Trayvons out there, from the profiling and the paranoia.
    just a kid getting a treat , hunted by an over zealous crime fighter.

    March 31, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Urafkntool

      just a 6' kid beating Zimmerman's head into the concrete. Yeah, definetly didn't deserve anything to happen to him. You're a libtard idiot.

      March 31, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Closer to the truth

      Mr. Tool, the accounts of the only eyewitness states that they did not scuffle on concrete – they were on the grass. The evidence of film taking about a half hour after the shooting shows NO signs of injury to Zimmerman's head or nose, and certainly no blood. The mortician stated they found no signs of a struggle at all – knuckles get thrashed fast if a punch is thrown, but Martin's knuckles showed no signs.

      You keep harping on the "head-slamming" chord, but the ONLY evidence of that is what Zimmerman said. You are taking Zimmerman at his word 100%, and ignoring all other evidence. The only evidence supporting Zimmerman is his own words – the physical evidence is much less flattering to his story.

      You have posted racist comments repeatedly on this blog, especially against blacks. That no doubt has blinded you to the hard evicence. All you see in a black kid in a hoodie, and that's good enough for a kill to you.

      The investigator for the case wanted to prosecute on manslaughter, but was talked out of it.

      March 31, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  3. Urafkntool

    Someone attacks my house, I'm shooting to kill. Someone attacks me or my family, I'm shooting to kill. That's just all there is to it.

    March 31, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • exterminator

      Cross that property line with a pop and a bag of skittles and it will be the last trespass you ever do sucker !

      March 31, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Urafkntool

      More like cross that property line and I'll shoot period. I don't care what you're holding.

      March 31, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • That's pretty funny, tool!

      So your front lawn is littered with the rotting corpses of mail carriers and Girl Scouts? Okay. Pop a few Mormon missionaries for me, would you?

      March 31, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  4. rell87

    Don't attack or try and rob peoiple that have a gun and you wont get shot. Stand your ground protects the Victim from the attacker. If you get shot while attacking or robbing someone its Your fault, not the shooter's.

    March 31, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • exterminator

      He come at the guy with a bag of skittles, we are talking potential paper cut here.

      March 31, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • MiKKKe from ArKKKansas

      YOU HAVE OBVIOOIOUSLY NEVVER BEEN SKITTLE-WHIPPED BY A HODDY-WEARIN NIG . . . BLAKC PUNK!

      March 31, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  5. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer really changes things
    Proven, Powerful, Effective

    March 31, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  6. jlf

    people just use "STAND YOUR GROUND" as an excuse to justify their true intentions...to take an innocent life just because they want to.

    March 31, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  7. jthacker

    Wow. I find your reasoning poor and your presuppositions suspect. Do you really believe those in the right have a duty to retreat? I do hope you are not in a position of influence, as those kinds of ideas are sure to be the demise of this once great nation.

    March 31, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  8. chuck

    Stand our ground is not in question. It is not being used for Zimmerman's defense. Zimmerman is claiming self-defense which is en entirely different law. Stand your ground is for intruders endangering you in your home etc. Self-Defense is for this scenario. Stand your ground was not used, has nothing to do with this case, and it is silly to try and make it central when it is not even a small part of what it going on. Quit wasting our time and do your research first.

    March 31, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • alma

      we dont know yet what is going to be used. but the main reason why he didnt get arrested the first day was because of this law, so it was used for his protection. However, his attorney has mentioned that it does apply to the case.

      March 31, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • jclovegren

      Stand Your Ground has nothing to do with your home. You have always been allowed to defend against an intruder in your home. The common law idea was "fear of death, nodily harm or felony". Outside on your property hans't changed. It is when you are not on your property that stand your ground applies.

      April 1, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  9. 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 head-hiding 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 head-hiding hoodies in their facilities.
    ---------------------------------------------------–

    March 31, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • Reality

      Clothes are so SCARY!

      March 31, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  10. Joe Sixpack

    Awesome post.

    Well said!

    But, it seems we have regressed another step and there is no way forward again.

    March 31, 2012 at 7:14 am |
  11. Thankful

    At one time I thought it would be great to live in America. I am so thankful in my beatiful country anyone can walk to the store at night. We don't call or hate each other because of the color of our skin. We repect each President that gets elected whether he's was our pick or not. We don't have the crazies running around protesting againist our own best interest. If our family members get sick regardless if was pre-existing or not they will get care. Because we're not all millioniare so we know we need healthcare. Our country is not perfect but when we watch the news are we thankful we don't live in a hateful, racist county like America.

    March 31, 2012 at 6:18 am |
  12. Prayer changes things

    Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things .

    March 31, 2012 at 6:11 am |
  13. Jason

    By reading these reader comments I've come across 5 different statements
    disclosing what "really happened".
    Amazing, isn't it?

    March 30, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  14. sass

    there are two types of people.. flight or fight. to fight does not mean to kill.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Actually, in an increasing number of cases, it does.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  15. Haime52

    I cannot really comment on the Trayvon case. Not enough info, as yet. I do, however, question the thought that everyone should retreat (read run, like a coward) when confronted by thugs intent on doing them harm, if they have means to defend themselves. Where is the wisdom in making these kind of people think that they are stronger and better than everyone weaker than themselves by running away whenever they confront or threaten us? If everyone stood up to bullies and gave no ground, they would eventually go away and behave, realizing that their bad behavior gets them little to nothing.

    How is it that we send our sons and daughters in harm's way, to free others from tryanny, but are afraid to take back our own streets? Ludicrous!

    March 30, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Deepak

      Haime52: Nobody should be asked to retreat when confronted, unless standing ground could put them in harm's way. But to allow use of guns against fists is what sounds alarming. An altercation should not give the offended a license to kill.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Deepak

      Also, to retreat should not be interpreted as cowardice. Would you call it cowardice if you were unarmed and a thug pulled a gun at your face to leave the place?

      March 30, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Huh?

      When there are a pile of bodies on the ground, you still going to believe your statements?

      March 31, 2012 at 2:44 am |
    • Pretend

      Well for all those who believe in stand your ground exsist outside of the home on the street. As Zimmerman profile this young man came to his own conclusion before he step out of his truck. will every american feel they should be carrying protectionsof they don't find themselves face with an unarm situation. stand your ground ..

      March 31, 2012 at 6:05 am |
  16. Deepak

    I don't understand the logic in these laws without certain protections. In my country, the law states that the attacked person (even cops) must make all efforts to fend off the attacker/culprit before causing fatal harm: like the attacked person must try to scare off the attacker by firing a warning shot in the air. If the attacker is too close, the first shot must be below the hip and the person using guns must prove that he tried his best not to cause fatal harm, instead of just proving that he was attacked. I think that seems only fair and simple.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Haime52

      I can concur with most of that! If not you could easily end up with someone putting themselves deliberately in harm's way, just so they could kill someone and using the statute to justify it.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  17. Not looking good for Georgie Boy

    "Richard Kurtz, the mortician who handled Trayvon's body, told CBS News on Thursday that he saw no signs of a fight. "We could see no physical signs like there had been a scuffle," he said. "The hands - I didn't see any knuckles, bruises or what have you."

    The video shows no signs of injury on Zimmerman either. One witness said the scuffle did not take place on concrete but on grass.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  18. rence73

    No one should have an invitation to kill. Ban all handguns...

    March 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Jason

      – including the guns, currently in the illegal/unregistered possession of career criminals, right?
      Do you see the weakness of your statement?

      March 30, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • 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.

      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 30, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Seeking answers from you

      Why do you lie so much? You lie aboout prayer, you lie about having proven things, you lie about atheists, you call on person here a Nazi racist because she posted Hitler's quotes on his religious beliefs in a conversation about what Hitler believed, it just goes on and on.

      You are pathological in your lying. Why do you do it? Why do you lie so much?

      I imagine the atheists must love you for all the damage you do Christianity with your lies and wild, crazy assertions about religion. You are like those leftist terrorist groups in the 1970s, doing far more harm to your cause than good.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • just sayin

      It is all Truth. Answer on another thread. God bless

      March 30, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Proven
    Powerful

    March 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Jesus

      No, it's NOT. 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.

      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 30, 2012 at 6:57 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.