Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The right to kill

No matter that states like Florida have a "stand your ground" law, you're always on shaky ground when defending your life with a weapon.  If you don't get Current TV, you may want to watch this documentary giving examples of how the law has been abused; about how legitimate defense may ruin your life and how homicide may go unpunished. 

Although the author of Florida's landmark law emphatically states that the law does not support confrontation, pursuit or aggression; although the law does not justify lethal force to protect property, nor shooting a fleeing suspect in the back, courts have acted as though it does and opponents of the law are quite happy to act as though the intent was precisely to give the right to kill to anyone who feels uneasy or annoyed for reasons not quite related to fact.

Consider the story of an IRS agent whose car was run off the road by two men who pursued him, threatening his life.  Unable to get help from 911, Mr. Lewis used his pistol and wounded one of the assailants and in the lengthy process that ensued, lost his job, his home and his savings when the assailant sued him. 

And then look at the story of a unarmed man, in some sort of religious state of Ecstasy was gunned down in the street by someone who felt threatened.  Look too at a Texas Prostitute who was shot for refusing sex and refusing a refund.  In both cases the murderer got off scott free.

When a Sheriff's deputy told me not long ago, that if I were to need to defend my life or family with a weapon, I should shoot to kill rather than face a decade or two of litigation that would surely impoverish me, I had to remember an acquaintance, a Baltimore policeman who was in fact forced into poverty after having justifiably shot someone in the line of duty. If you're trying to survive an attack, should you have to choose between being killed or maimed, sent to prison or being torn to pieces by the courts?  That quandary is the origin of  laws intended to protect those who need to protect themselves.

Evidently, "Stand Your Ground" and "Castle Doctrine" laws have failed in some cases to protect those legitimately protecting their lives as well as they have failed to protect harmless people.  In a country steeped in the fear of crime; a country being convinced by false propaganda of the increasing dangers awaiting us  from armed civilians and by armed criminals, is there a solution?  Can we protect the right to self defense while protecting us from unwarranted prosecution, from armed aggression posing as justified use of deadly force?  Will we even have the chance to debate this? 

The unfolding case against George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin should be forcing us to consider whether the law should be changed, but of course it won't. Although it seems clear to me, as someone who has read the law that one can't claim self defense if one is himself the assailant -- if one pursued, harassed, confronted and illegally tried to remove someone from a place he had the right to occupy, the trial will not be about that and no minds will be changed.  It will become a soapbox for airing ill considered and irrelevant opinion, both from people who aren't going to be hindered by objectivity or facts and has a vested interest in divisiveness and partisanship -- whether making at about racism, about the need for more guns, fewer guns, about whether strict gun laws have any effect, about the need for disarmament or any of the other passionately held and incorporated positions, everyone will stand his ground, defend his opinion, and nothing will change.

Is it really about 'gun cultures', the NRA or 20 round magazines or plastic gun parts or gun shows or waiting periods -- or is it about a nation crippled by gullibility, by activists and lobbyists and irrational fear?

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