Another criminal trial has started which purports to invoke the so-called controversial "stand your ground" statute.
The Florida statute provides:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
That’s not all that different from the West Virginia statute:
A person not engaged in unlawful activity who is attacked in any place he or she has a legal right to be outside of his or her home or residence may use reasonable and proportionate force against an intruder or attacker: Provided, That such person may use deadly force against an intruder or attacker in a place that is not his or her residence without a duty to retreat if the person reasonably believes that he or she or another is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from which he or she or another can only be saved by the use of deadly force against the intruder or attacker.
The facts of the Florida case as reported in the press are:
Four young black men were at a convenience store in a car with the radio/stereo blasting. An older white man in another car asked them to turn down the volume. There's no information about whether that request was friendly, neutral or hostile. The young guys refused, and again there is no information about how calm or heated the refusal was. An argument ensued. The older man says he saw a gun barrel appear out of the back window of the younger guys’ car. He drew his own legally carried pistol and fired several rounds. One of the young man was killed. No weapons were recovered by police from the young men's car.
The older man has been charged with murder.
So the press is full of the usual rhetoric – An innocent older citizen defended himself from a bunch of young thugs; or an old racist pistolero assassinated a kid. Both of these "obvious" conclusions come from people who have no more information about this particular case than we do. So once again, the old song lyric lives on: "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."
Since I wasn't there, I have no opinion on what the verdict should be. If the guy is convicted in a fair trial, that’s fine; if he’s acquitted in a fair trial, that’s fine.
I do have one observation and one conclusion which do seem fairly obvious to me.
Sometimes, "Stand Your Ground" laws protect factually innocent people from culturally or politically popular prosecutions. If it is always required that one "retreat" from a confrontation, some people will be put in the peculiar legal position of either defending themselves or being shot themselves.
That's a hell of a choice.
The reason is that in lots of situations, retreating is more dangerous than "standing your ground." There are so many permutations on how conflicts can develop that one simple set of rules is impossible to write. However, you can't out draw a drawn gun and you can't out run a bullet. If retreating adds to the net danger, then retreating is a dumb idea.
It is all fact specific.
Okay – Now the conclusion:
Legal justifications aside, this young man should not have been shot. This confrontation should not have happened. Saying that you do not have a legal duty to retreat has not a great deal to do with whether or not you SHOULD retreat. The shooter may or may not have a legal justification. He does not have a moral justification.
In any confrontation, the default choice always should be to retreat and avoid the confrontation. By "default," I mean that unless you have a really good reason based on probable expected outcomes to remain at the site of the conflict, you need to leave. Or, if you want high negative indexed terms, you should turn tail, chicken out, take a powder, go home to mama or do anything else that hurts your widdle feelings and pride. The alternative is it you will be involved in a possibly lethal encounter.
This default is magnified tenfold when you are armed. By bearing arms, you're not just exercising a right. There are all sorts of ways to exercise rights in stupid and harmful ways. By arming yourself, you are saying that you are capable of determining when it absolutely is necessary to exert lethal, deadly force against another person in your own defense or the defense of someone else. You are also promising to keep the weapon holstered and avoid a confrontation unless you have that most compelling reason not to do so.
Assuming that the young guys in Florida had the car speakers wound up to 747 engine volume, they were being damned impolite and demonstrating that if their parents taught them manners, the lessons did not take.
No matter. There are no such thing as mere words that justify any fight, let alone a lethal one. But here, we have a guy who is armed. Any confrontation carries with it a lethal potential. The loud radio is not sufficient to give rise to that potential in the least degree.
"Lethal" sounds like only a moderately distasteful word. So let’s stop and experience some of the full import: By "lethal," I mean that you have a bullet impacting someone’s body, tearing a wound channel and killing them by blood loss, shock or destruction of necessary organs. You have a body, an autopsy and a funeral. That kind of lethal. Not a lot of people see gunshot victims. If you do, you will remember.
I have no idea what was on the shooter’s mind in Florida. Likely, it was not "I'm killing a kid today" but the confrontation should not have occurred. The shooter should not have put himself in a position where the probability increased that he would justifiably draw a weapon. (“Shooter” is another negative term, but it’s used without pejorative. He had a gun. He shot.)
And this has nothing to do with legal responsibility and everything to do with the moral responsibility of every armed citizen.
These unnecessary tragedies seriously dilute the strength of our determination to live as a free people with natural rights, including the right of self-defense. If the armed community does not use constant restraint, intelligence and common sense, we are proving that some of us just cannot be
trusted with rights.
And if we prove that, it will be all the easier for those rights to be taken away by a paternalistic government or a spooked majority.