OPINION: Stand Your Ground Must be a Federal Law
Updated: Jul 15, 2020
In 32 states, there is legislation in place which is essential to the protection of their residents, as well as their individual rights.
Stand Your Ground legislation allows citizens to respond with force when presented with a threat or when there is a reasonable perception of harm. This legislation must be passed at a federal level, for the simple reason it asserts an individual's most basic human right: the right to self-preservation. This philosophy is based in the belief that one of an individual's most fundamental rights is that of self-preservation. Everyone has the right to defend and protect themselves, loved ones, and their rightful property from harm.
The Second Amendment, which protects the right to keep and bear arms, is the primary precedent to this principle. The right to self-defense is the overarching right granted within the amendment, not simply the right to own guns. This principle further keeps up with the three inalienable rights our country was founded upon: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness by defending the most basic of these:life.
Opponents have long argued that such legislation would discourage the de-escalation of encounters and promote further violence, which in turn would not deter criminals and promote safety. There is a vein of truth to this, as Stand Your Ground is applicable in any case where even a "reasonably perceived" threat is apparent. This is objectively problematic, as “reasonably perceived“ is difficult to define, and could in theory be used to justify racial bias, as seen in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
However, in an interview with NPR, Florida lawmaker Dennis Baxley (R-Fla.), who authored his state's Stand Your Ground legislation, claimed his bill would not have protected George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer.
John Lott Jr. of the Star Tribune reports that, in Florida, thirty-four percent of all Stand Your Ground invocations were made by African-American defendants. Blacks only make up around seventeen percent of Florida's population. Additionally, he writes that blacks are acquitted at a rate of four percent more often than whites when invoking Stand Your Ground.
Florida's Stand Your Ground law was implemented in 2005, and from 2005-2010, there has been a consistent decline in violent crime, as per Politifact. While this bill may or may not have directly impacted the falling rates in violent crime, the rates appear to have decreased more rapidly after the bill went into effect than before. Similarly, a 2007 study supports the ideal that, while deterrence is not guaranteed from Stand Your Ground legislation, it could potentially have that effect.
In terms of judicial precedent, The Supreme Court established the right to self-defense in the unanimous ruling of Beard vs U.S. The decision set the legal precedent that an innocent bystander is not obliged to retreat when faced with a threat of physical harm, and has the constitutional right to stand their ground.
Moreover, Ohio, a state without Stand Your Ground legislation, reinforced the idea of meeting force with force in Erwin vs The State of Ohio, where the court notoriously wrote:
"The law, out of tenderness for human life and the frailty of human nature, will not permit the taking of it to repel mere trespass, or even to save a life where the assault is provoked; but a true man who is without fault is not obliged to fly from an assailant, who by violence of surprise maliciously seeks to take his life or do him enormous bodily harm."
Stand Your Ground legislation would not only reinforce existing state statutes and judicial precedents, but would also uphold the inalienable rights for all U.S. citizens. The fact there is not a true federal legislation is appalling and needs to change.
Andrew Fielden is an Editor-at-Large for The National Times.