Search Results for ‘"stand your ground"’

New Yorker on Stand Your Ground

A big piece by Mike Spies in the New Yorker on the history of Florida as a battlefield on gun issues asserts that 1) Florida enacted the nation’s first Stand Your Ground law in the early 2000s, and broadly hints that 2) the law resulted in a jury’s 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Is that so? Though both points are often claimed, as we’ve pointed out in the past, neither stands up to scrutiny. As Peter Jamison of the Tampa Bay Times noted in this 2014 piece, the “truth is that Florida did not pioneer the controversial rules” abolishing duty-to-retreat in favor of Stand Your Ground; many states had long since done so through case law development. Much more on the legal background in Ilya Shapiro’s 2013 Senate testimony, which points, for example, to a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1895. (Florida’s statute did introduce new procedural protections at the charge stage for defendants, which is a different matter.)

Meanwhile, Zimmerman’s acquittal came after his lawyers advanced a conventional self-defense theory as opposed to one rooted in Stand Your Ground.

The magazine’s celebrated fact-checking system does not seem to have functioned well in this case.

A “Stand Your Ground” backgrounder

Decent articles on Stand Your Ground in the general press are relatively few, being far outnumbered by those that are sensationalist, axe-grinding or simply uninformed. So it’s nice to be able to recommend this one by Peter Jamison in the Tampa Bay Times [via Jacob Sullum].

In other news, a United Nations panel in Geneva monitoring compliance with international human rights law has questioned a wide range of United States domestic policies, including some states’ adoption of Stand Your Ground as well as lack of gun control and other offenses. “The committee is charged with upholding the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a UN treaty that the US ratified in 1992.” Another reminder that treaties have consequences, and that ratification of other purported human rights treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD), would not be without public consequences relating to many domestic policies. [Guardian]

Ilya Shapiro testifies on Stand Your Ground laws

Yesterday, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee chaired by Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin held a hearing on Stand Your Ground laws. My Cato Institute colleague Ilya Shapiro testified (video link here) and I recommend his written testimony, a condensed version of which is also online at National Review.

On the history of these laws in America:

…there’s nothing particularly novel, partisan, or ideological about these laws. All they do is allow people to assert their right to self-defense in certain circumstances without having a so-called “duty to retreat.” The SYG principle has been enshrined in the law of a majority of U.S. states for over 150 years, originating as judge-made common law and eventually being codified by statute.

At present, about 31 states — give or take, depending on how you count — have some type of SYG doctrine, a vast majority of which had it as part of their common law even before legislators took any action. So even if these statutes were repealed tomorrow, SYG would still be the law in most states because of preexisting judicial decisions. And, of course, some states, like California and Virginia, maintain SYG only judicially, without having passed any legislation.

It’s also worth noting that of the 15 states that have passed variations of the law since 2005, the year Florida’s model legislation became law, eight — a majority — had Democratic governors when the laws were enacted. None issued a veto. Democratic governors who signed SYG bills, or otherwise permitted them to become law, include Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Brian Schweitzer of Montana, John Lynch of New Hampshire, Brad Henry of Oklahoma, Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Janet Napolitano of Arizona. The bills in Louisiana and West Virginia passed with Democratic control of both houses in the state legislatures, in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Even Florida’s supposedly controversial law passed the state senate unanimously and split Democrats in the state house. Conversely, many so-called “red states,” or those that have a significant gun culture — such as Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wyoming — impose a duty to retreat.

The Supreme Court has noticed the issue as well:

At the Supreme Court, SYG dates back to the 1895 case of Beard v. United States, in which the great Justice John Harlan wrote for a unanimous Court that the victim “was not obliged to retreat, nor to consider whether he could safely retreat, but was entitled to stand his ground, and meet any attack upon him with a deadly weapon, in such a way and with such force as, under all the circumstances, he, at the moment, honestly believed, and had reasonable grounds to believe, were necessary to save his own life, or to protect himself from great bodily injury.”

And Ilya does not allow to pass unremarked the browbeating tactics of subcommittee chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.):

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention before concluding one episode in the leadup to this hearing that has unfortunately contributed to the sensationalism surrounding discussions of SYG laws: Chairman Durbin’s attempt to intimidate businesses and organizations that have had any affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council (because ALEC had sponsored model SYG legislation, among other reforms that may not have curried Chairman Durbin’s favor). Chairman Durbin’s letter noted that responses would be included in this hearing’s record, but just to be safe, I’m submitting with this statement both the Chairman’s letter and the response by Cato’s president, John Allison.

Earlier on the Durbin/Allison exchange here. More: WSJ’s Kim Strassel on Durbin’s vendetta against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC); Jacob Sullum on Sybrina Fulton’s testimony.

Sen. Durbin’s “Stand Your Ground” intimidation

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a close ally of labor union and trial lawyer interests on Capitol Hill, is sending out hundreds of letters to groups linked to ALEC, the free-market group of state legislators that has occasionally involved itself in other issue areas like criminal and self-defense law, promising to shame those supporters at a public hearing for the notional link to the Trayvon Martin affair. (ALEC backed the passage of some state “stand-your-ground” laws, which as we have grown weary of repeating, did not form the basis for George Zimmerman’s successful claim of self-defense; a new Quinnipiac poll finds that American voters back “Stand Your Ground” laws by a 53-40 margin, so that campaign against these laws has evidently flopped badly)

Mostly these letters were designed to intimidate businesses that might support ALEC, but Durbin also sent one of the browbeating letters to the Cato Institute, which might have been a mistake. As related by colleague Ilya Shapiro:

Earlier this week, we received a letter from Durbin asking two questions (you’ll have to pardon the awkward grammar; this went out to hundreds of groups, so Durbin’s staff apparently had no time for proofing):

Has Cato Institute served as a member of ALEC or provided any funding to ALEC in 2013?

Does Cato Institute support the “stand your ground” legislation that was adopted as a national model and promoted by ALEC?

And, by the way, Durbin wants recipients of his polite inquiry to know, “I plan to convene a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights to examine ‘stand your ground’ laws, and I intend to include the responses to my letters in the hearing record. Therefore, please know that your response will be publicly available.”

Well, I’m proud to say that Cato isn’t going along with this charade. Our president John Allison has responded to Durbin with a letter that I’ll quote in its entirety:

Dear Senator Durbin:

Your letter of August 6, 2013 is an obvious effort to intimidate those organizations and individuals who may have been involved in any way with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

While Cato is not intimidated because we are a think tank—whose express mission is to speak publicly to influence the climate of ideas—from my experience as a private-sector CEO, I know that business leaders will now hesitate to exercise their constitutional rights for fear of regulatory retribution.

Your letter thus represents a blatant violation of our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. It is a continuation of the trend of the current administration and congressional leaders, such as yourself, to menace those who do not share your political beliefs—as evidenced by the multiple IRS abuses that have recently been exposed.

Your actions are a subtle but powerful form of government coercion.

We would be glad to provide a Cato scholar to testify at your hearing to discuss the unconstitutional abuse of power that your letter symbolizes.

Sincerely,

John Allison

The Wall Street Journal is on the issue today, and so is the Chicago Tribune, reproaching hometown Sen. Durbin for his propensity to “use the power of his high federal office as a cudgel against his enemies.” Incidentally, while Cato takes no official position so far as I know on “Stand Your Ground” laws, I have been active in discussing them: in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Daily Caller, Bloomberg TV, Cato podcast and other places, and in many places here, including discussions of the campaign against ALEC here, here, here, and here (Paul Krugman at his most careless). Do you think I could ask the Senator to shame me by name at the hearing?

P.S. One of the rare occasions when my opinions diverge from Ira Stoll’s.

Scant state interest in rolling back Stand Your Ground

Although Eric Holder, Barack Obama and a long list of liberal publications and organizations have lately pressed the cause, states recognizing “stand your ground” principles of self-defense show little inclination to overturn them [Annie Yu, Washington Times last week, quoting me; AP] “The substantial majority view among the states, by a 31-19 margin, is no duty to retreat.” [Eugene Volokh] Barack Obama’s voting record on related issues in the Illinois state senate may surprise some readers [Jacob Sullum, who has been giving the issue thorough coverage] “Blacks benefit from Florida ‘Stand Your Ground’ law at disproportionate rate” [Patrick Howley, Daily Caller] Some more thoughts from Mark Bennett at Defending People. Bonus: what it’s like to be mounted in a fistfight (alleging that bare hands and feet have been responsible for 4,028 deaths since 2007, more than rifles and shotguns combined).

Zimmerman lawyer: “Stand Your Ground” isn’t our defense

Remember this past April, when I was telling anyone who would listen that Florida’s much-flayed “Stand Your Ground” no-duty-to-retreat self-defense doctrine was unlikely to be relevant in the Trayvon Martin shooting, even as much of the media was publishing piece after piece claiming the opposite? Bloomberg’s Ed Adams is kind enough to remember:

Specifically, as AP now reports, “attorney Mark O’Mara now confirms that ‘The facts don’t seem to support a “stand your ground” defense,'” and that he will instead be advancing a conventional self-defense theory on behalf of client George Zimmerman. To add confusion, the preliminary hearing provided for by Florida law is colloquially known as a “Stand Your Ground” hearing, even if SYG itself is not the grounds on which dismissal is sought.

Particularly shameful were the organized campaigns in some quarters first to demonize Stand Your Ground as having somehow caused Martin’s death, and then to demonize the American Legislative Exchange Council for having promoted self-defense laws in other states. With little critical scrutiny in the media, the campaign even enjoyed a certain amount of success, though its factual flimsiness was apparent enough at the time.

California’s court-developed Stand Your Ground law

Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle has an excellent report on California’s longstanding recognition of Stand Your Ground self-defense principles in public places, which developed through judicial rather than legislative action. He reports that “even Californians who illegally carry handguns can invoke the stand-your-ground doctrine, as shown in a 2005 ruling by a state appeals court in Santa Ana.” By contrast, compare the misleading-at-best map run in Wednesday’s news-side Wall Street Journal, which purports to show states with “stand your ground laws in place” but treats California as not having one. The WSJ lists its sources for the map as “Association of Prosecuting Attorneys; Legal Community Against Violence; National Conference of State Legislatures.” Perhaps the paper was relying overmuch on input from anti-gun groups that have sought to portray Stand Your Ground as a novelty foisted on state legislatures in recent years, thus underplaying the doctrine’s deep historical roots in much of America.

Notwithstanding tendentious efforts to politicize the issue of late, it’s also worth noting that leading Democratic governors like Janet Napolitano (Arizona) and Jennifer Granholm (Michigan) were among those to sign Stand Your Ground laws in the post-2005 wave of new legislative adoptions [Hawkins, Breitbart] Earlier on Stand Your Ground here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.

Washington Post keeps missing point on Stand Your Ground

I’ve got a new opinion piece up at the Daily Caller correcting some of the Washington Post’s persistent misconceptions about self-defense law, on both its editorial and reporting sides. Sample:

… how [Post reporters] Fisher and Eggen do stack their lead anecdote. Their opening paragraphs tell of a youth who innocently “knocked at the wrong door” and was greeted by an irate homeowner who, seemingly without reason or provocation, blasted him in the chest, only to be set free by the police, since in Florida, the victim’s father sorrowfully avers, it seems “the shooter’s word is the law.”

Pretty horrifying, right? It takes 17 paragraphs of unrelated matter before the first scraps of the other side of the story emerge: it was 4 a.m. and the youth, bipolar and “blitzed” on alcohol that night, was ignoring repeated pleas to leave a property with a young mother and baby inside; the husband/shooter (whom the Post never managed to reach for his side of the story) told police that he had asked his wife to call 911, which hadn’t shown up; that he had warned the intruder many times, and fired only after being “lurched” at; he was then arrested, “but Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia concluded that his actions were ‘justified.’”

You can read the whole thing here.


Also, correspondent Lee Pacchia interviewed me at Bloomberg Law about the law’s application to the Trayvon Martin case in a 9 minute+ segment posted today. More commentary from my Cato Institute colleague Tim Lynch at Jurist. Earlier here.

Podcast on “Stand Your Ground” laws


In today’s Cato Daily Podcast, I correct some of the flagrant misconceptions that keep circulating about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, and in particular discuss why the law makes no difference at all (under current evidence) in assessing George Zimmerman’s legal guilt or innocence in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Earlier/background here. And Eugene Volokh has a great post here on the nature of the supposed “duty to retreat,” which I mention in the podcast, with more here.