Since the Feb. 26 murder of 17-year-old Floridian Trayvon Martin, some have erupted in fury over Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. The law allows citizens under reasonable threat to use deadly force in self-defense without an obligation to retreat first. “Stand Your Ground” may protect Martin’s killer, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, from homicide charges. Zimmerman told authorities he shot Martin after being punched and thrown to the sidewalk.
The public outcry for Zimmerman’s arrest pressured Gov. Rick Scott to form a statewide task force to review the law after the investigation ends, but Sen. Chris Smith doesn’t want to wait. On April 3, Sen. Smith formed his own task force to review the law, concluding the law should be repealed.
The law, however, is not the problem. “Stand Your Ground” lets citizens shoot to live, not shoot to kill. Floridians and all Americans that value life should stand their ground and defend their right to, literally, defend themselves.
Martin’s fate, though a horrible tragedy, didn’t necessarily result from “Stand Your Ground.” Would Zimmerman have fired the bullet if the law didn’t exist? We cannot say. He would have been prosecuted without “Stand Your Ground,” and with it, he is still being prosecuted. The courts will judge whether Zimmerman acted in self-defense or malicious offense. The Stand Your Ground law draws a line between these two intents, protecting the former and punishing the latter.
All laws distinguish good, law-abiding citizens from bad, law-breaking citizens, promoting good and punishing bad. If “Stand Your Ground” is repealed, ordinary citizens will be forced to choose between breaking the law by using violence to protect their own life in life-threatening situations or following the law by non-violently resisting an attacker. “Stand Your Ground” tells the good citizen his life is valuable and he has the right to defend it, and it tells the bad citizen he risks his own life by attacking another. Repealing the law protects the life of the bad citizen at the expense of the good citizen. It tells the good citizen to avoid violence at all costs, even his or her own life, and it tells the bad citizen they have the upper hand– if the victim does defend himself, he will face charges.
I am not labeling Martin “bad” or Zimmerman “good”. The case is not closed. In a society hooked on crime and reality TV shows, it’s not surprising that the media has latched onto the story. Racism and blood sell, and news networks know this better than anyone. But average Americans should humbly realize we are too removed from the circumstances to piece together the puzzle. We should wait to hear results from the investigation before protesting for Zimmerman’s sentence. Every man and woman is by law innocent until proven guilty, but much of the mainstream media and its fans have treated Zimmerman as guilty until proven innocent. NBC edited Zimmerman’s 911 call, cutting the dispatcher asking Zimmerman what Martin looked like and leaving Zimmerman’s words, “He’s black.” ABC’s Matt Gutman tweeted that Zimmerman shot Martin “bc he was black, wore hoodie walking slowly.”
The right to bear arms in self-defense can be the difference between life and death. One case should not prompt a revision in a law 23 states uphold to one degree or another, especially an open case with more public speculation than evidence. Americans, stand your ground, and don’t let your state take away your right to self-defense.
This op-ed was originally written for American Political Thought and Practice I.