'Stand your ground' laws are common sense
It’s a dark Friday night. Allison is leaving her evening classes, which came after an already-long workday. She trudges, exhausted, to her car, parked at the far side of a dark parking lot. While she is rummaging in her bag for her keys, a hand covers her mouth. “Scream and I’ll kill you,” a voice growls. She’s pushed, hard, slamming her head into her passenger window, falling to the ground. She feels her ankle crack beneath her. Terrified, hurt, and with no way escape, Allison reaches in her purse, and pulls out the small revolver she hoped never to use. Her assailant notices, and pulls back his foot for a swift, brutal kick. Allison aims at her attacker and fires.
I think Allison is a brave woman who survived a terrifying, traumatic ordeal.
I certainly don’t think Allison is a murderer.
And because of “stand your ground” laws (SYG), neither does the state of Florida.
Florida’s SYG laws, passed in 2005, are a legal justification for self-defense, the use of force in response to reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm or death. SYG laws clarify that there is no duty to flee from an attacker or assailant before one can invoke self-defense.
A “duty to retreat” is a legal concept devoid of common sense: what happens if an assailant is faster or stronger than you? Furthermore, what good is running away if your attacker has a gun? The “duty to retreat” does little more than to embolden criminals and to harm victims, legally and physically. “Stand your ground” laws are common sense, and put victims and potential victims, not criminals, first — the way it should be.
Florida’s SYG laws work in tandem with Florida’s concealed carry laws. Not everyone wants the world to know that they are carrying a firearm; if nothing else, it can be disconcerting. These laws require gun owners to complete safety and training courses before they can carry a concealed weapon. The necessary training and background checks for concealed carry permit holders are, again, common sense, and I am proud to support them, just as I am proud to have spent my legislative career fighting for the restoration of Second Amendment rights to law-abiding American citizens. Americans have a right to carry arms — and though it is not enshrined in the Constitution, I would also argue that Americans have a right not to live in fear. Concealed carry permits and SYG laws bring that right to life.
My colleague, Rep. Val Demings, devoted 27 years of her life to serving and protecting the citizens of Orlando. I have nothing but admiration for her service and her deep and abiding commitment to her community. But I fear that she has misinterpreted and misunderstood Florida’s gun laws. In a recent article for the Orlando Sentinel, Demings wrote that Florida’s SYG laws “permit armed vigilantism,” and “increase violent crime.” She writes with emotion about the Trayvon Martin case — but neglects to mention that the Martin case was not a SYG case. She also mentions the shooting of Markeis McGlockton, which generated a massive amount of misinformation about Florida’s SYG laws in general. One must point out that SYG laws only permit the use of force if a person “reasonably believes” that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. If you are being attacked, raise your weapon, and your assailant starts running away, SYG in no way makes it permissible to use lethal force. SYG is not a blank check for vigilantism — using force must be “reasonable” and justified.
Demings wants to repeal SYG laws. This is, unfortunately, nothing new; an attempt to repeal SYG laws failed in 2013 by an 11-2 vote. That year, I was the Criminal Justice Chairman for the Florida House of Representatives; I voted against that repeal.
“Stand your ground” laws do not promote a wild west mentality — they prevent it. Citizens have the right to protect and defend themselves. They should not be forced to flee when under attack. Likewise, law enforcement officers should have the ability to serve and protect the citizens without the fear of prosecution. SYG serves our citizens and our law enforcement heroes alike — we owe it to both to preserve these important laws.