That is often the case with these types of laws. The "Shoot First" bill, recently vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton in Minnesota, would have had similar low standards for shooting another in self defense. So this is what passes for making us all safer? The thing is, only about 2-3% of people even think it's a good idea to carry loaded guns around in public. These folks feel they need their guns for their own self defense. They are making a choice that could affect us all because of an agenda from an uber and mythically powerful and well-funded lobby group that protects an industry which makes weapons designed to kill people."Florida’s self-defense law, known as Stand Your Ground, grants immunity to people who act to protect themselves if they have a reasonable fear they will be killed or seriously injured.“Stand Your Ground is a law that has really created a Wild West type environment in Florida,” said Brian Tannebaum, a criminal defense lawyer in Florida. “It allows people to kill people outside of their homes, if they are in reasonable fear for their lives. It’s a very low standard.”"
The now very well publicized case of the Florida teen who was shot by a "captain" of a neighborhood watch program is causing a stir in the media and in Florida- for good reasons. The shooter has so far walked away from the shooting without being held for the shooting or charged with a crime of any kind. The local police have believed his evoking of self defense in the case. There are so many questions, it's hard to know where to start.
1. Florida has granted gun carry permits to people with questionable backgrounds. Should we know that people who shouldn't have gun carry permits have them anyway? This article explains more:
2. Right. Let's move on shall we? Zimmerman, a concealed carry permit holder, had had one charge against him in 2005 for a violent attack against an officer. Law enforcement first told the family of Trayvon Martin that Zimmerman's record was squeaky clean and that they believed his version of the shooting because he was a Criminal Justice student. Should Zimmerman have had his gun given the 2005 charge?Across Florida, the state has given concealed-weapon licenses to hundreds of people who wouldn't have a chance of getting them in most other states because of their criminal histories. Courts have found them responsible for assaults, burglaries, sexual battery, drug possession, child molestation -- even homicide.In an investigation of the state's concealed-weapon system, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found those licensed by Florida to carry guns in the first half of 2006 included:More than 1,400 people who pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies but qualified because of a loophole in the law.216 people with outstanding warrants, including a Tampa pizza deliveryman wanted since 2002 in the fatal shooting a 15-year-old boy over a stolen order of chicken wings.28 people with active domestic-violence injunctions against them, including a Hallandale man who was ordered by a judge to stay away from his former son-in-law after pulling a handgun out of his pocket and telling the man: "I'll blow you away . . ."Six registered sex offenders."I had no idea," said Baker County Sheriff Joey Dobson, who sits on an advisory panel for the state Division of Licensing that issues concealed-weapon permits. "I think the system, somewhere down the line, is broken. I guarantee you the ordinary person doesn't know [that] . . ., and I'd venture to guess that 160 legislators in Florida don't know that either."The National Rifle Association, the prime mover behind the state's nearly 20-year-old concealed-weapon law, says it is the court system that is broken -- not the gun-licensing system.The problem rests with gaps within law enforcement and with "bleeding-heart, criminal-coddling judges and prosecutors," said Marion P. Hammer, Tallahassee lobbyist for the NRA and its affiliate, the Unified Sportsmen of Florida."What you need to understand is the NRA and the sportsmen's group are law-abiding people," she said. "We don't want bad guys to have guns.
Frustration also grew after the parents said they had been told by detectives that Mr. Zimmerman had a “squeaky clean” record. They knew this, the detectives said, because Mr. Zimmerman told them. But Mr. Zimmerman had been arrested in 2005 on charges of resisting arrest with violence and battery on a police officer. The charges were later dropped.3. Is it enough to know that someone is a student of Criminal Justice to allow them to go free of charges in a shooting, as did the officers in the case?
4. The 911 calls reveal that the shooter, Zimmerman- was told when he called police to report who he found to be a "suspicious" person walking in the neighborhood, that they didn't need him to follow the boy. Should Zimmerman have continued to follow Martin? One of the readers of my blog quibbles with the wording of what police told Zimmerman in this comment:
"And the original Zimmerman 911 call.
"We do not need you to follow" is a but different than being told not to follow. Also when he called he did not even know the race of the suspect. It seems like the original story is falling apart."5. Why did Zimmerman decide to follow Martin in the first place?
6. Is it more dangerous for black teens to be walking around outside in a gated community that it is for someone who is white? This column by Charles Blow, New York Times writer, is written from the perspective of a Black man:The teen had gone to a convenience store to buy candy and was walking back to his family's home in the neighborhood."This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something," Zimmerman told the dispatcher from his SUV. He added that the black teen had his hand in his waistband and was walking around looking at homes."These a-------. They always get away," Zimmerman said on a 911 call.
7. Because someone exhibits "suspicious" behavior, a subjective and variable judgement, is that enough to call 911 and report it?As the father of two black teenage boys, this case hits close to home. This is the fear that seizes me whenever my boys are out in the world: that a man with a gun and an itchy finger will find them “suspicious.” That passions may run hot and blood run cold. That it might all end with a hole in their chest and hole in my heart. That the law might prove insufficient to salve my loss.That is the burden of black boys in America and the people that love them: running the risk of being descended upon in the dark and caught in the cross-hairs of someone who crosses the line.
8. What is suspicious behavior, or what was it according to Zimmerman, in this shooting case? This new article reveals some of what Zimmerman could have been thinking:
There is much more in the above linked article that sheds some light on this tragic incident.Licensed to carry a firearm and a student of criminal justice, Zimmerman went door-to-door asking residents to be on the lookout, specifically referring to young black men who appeared to be outsiders, and warned that some were caught lurking, neighbors said. The self-appointed captain of the neighborhood watch program is credited with cracking some crimes, and thwarting others.
9. If yes to #7, shouldn't the police, once called, handle the complaint, given that they said they would?
10. What did neighbors report in 911 tapes? You can listen to a few more of them here. You can even hear the screaming in the background of one call and then the gunshot.
11. One of the people at the crime scene was heard to be yelling "help. After the sound of the gunshot, the yelling stopped. Who, then, should we assume was yelling for help? As one neighbor wondered, if Zimmerman was the one who was crying for help, why did the crying stop when the gun was shot? Zimmerman claims he was the one calling for help.
12. Zimmerman had been reported by the neighbors on occasions because of his aggressive behavior while serving as a "captain" of the Neighborhood Watch in Sanford, Florida.
13. What does it mean to be involved in a Neighborhood Watch program?A volunteer captain of a Florida neighbourhood watch, who shot dead a black teen and then claimed he acted in self defence, had a 'history of aggressive tactics,' it has today emerged.Neighbours in George Zimmerman's gated community, at Twin Lakes, near Orlando, had issued complaints about the 26-year-old to local police and the homeowners association before the February 26 shooting, a homeowner said.
Emphasize that Watch groups are not vigilantes and should not assume the role of the police. Their duty is to ask neighbors to be alert, observant, and caring—and to report suspicious activity or crimes immediately to the police.14. Should one be armed while doing the duty of a neighborhood watch captain?
15. Was Zimmerman more bold because he was armed? Could Trayvon Martin have wondered why Zimmerman was trailing him and did Zimmerman show Martin his gun causing Martin to be concerned for his own safety?The family's attorneys also questioned why a neighbourhood watch leader would carry a gun.
16. Should Zimmerman have used a gun in an altercation that could have been avoided in the first place? Or, at the least, without the gun at the scene, would Martin now be dead?
17. Does one who claims to have shot someone in self defense get to do so even though the victim was unarmed and likely meant no harm in the first place? ( We only have Zimmerman's assessment of the situation):
So when you see someone carrying something that you perceive to be a weapon, before making sure, should you shoot? Can someone holding something else, like a pop can, be mistaken for someone with a weapon? Should you shoot before retreating or avoiding the situation or making sure it is an actual danger? Can something in someone's pocket be mistaken for a weapon? Should you shoot someone because you aren't sure?In case after case during the past six years, Floridians who shot and killed unarmed opponents have not been prosecuted. Former National Rifle Association President Marion Hammer, a major force behind the law's passage, cited her own size and age in 2006 interview with the Sentinel about what she would do if confronted by a younger and larger aggressor."I'm 4-foot-11. I'm 67 years old," she said. "If you came at me, and I felt that my life was in danger or that I was going to be injured, I wouldn't hesitate to shoot you."
18. Is this self defense? If so, does this make sense? If not, what will happen now given that the Florida Stand Your Ground law allows for immunity from prosecution?
19. When the permit holders who are carrying guns in public places believe that others who are carrying guns in public places are suspicious, how can we tell who's who? Who is the law abiding person with a gun and who is the criminal with a gun?
20. What about the police investigation in this case? There are certainly many questions to be asked.
Finally, does this not call Stand Your Ground, or Shoot First laws into question? Does this not make one wonder whether it is a good idea for people to be carrying loaded guns around in public places? Does this not make one wonder if there are people who are granted permits in Florida, and now many other states, who shouldn't be carrying guns around in public places? Does this not make one wonder why a national law forcing states that have more strict permitting requirements than other states be forced to accept the permits from all states? Where is common sense?Furthermore, ABC News reported on Tuesday that one of the responding officers “corrected a witness after she told him that she heard the teen cry for help.” And The Miami Herald published an article on Thursday that said three witnesses had heard the “desperate wail of a child, a gunshot, and then silence.”WFTV also reported this week that the officer in charge of the scene when Trayvon was shot was also in charge of another controversial case. In 2010, a lieutenant’s son was videotaped attacking a black homeless man. The officer’s son also was not initially arrested in that case. He was later arrested when the television station broke the news.
Oh, and just as an addendum- also in Florida this past week, there was a road rage shooting. Doesn't this just emphasize the ludicrous notion that more loaded guns in public places is a good idea? There were no claims of self defense here. Nor do we know yet whether the shooter had a permit to carry that gun around in his car ( or either of them for that matter). In the case of the road rage shooting, there is a clear law in Florida that says that one can't discharge a firearm from one's car no matter what and will be held accountable. That shooter will be charged and likely stand trial. In the other case, there is an assumption by the current Florida law that a man can shoot someone under the subjective moniker of self defense, as determined by the shooter, and that person will maybe not be charged with murder nor stand trial.
The taking of another human life is no small matter. In America, we have a system of justice that works to find the truth. Yes, sometimes things go wrong. But there should be a jury of peers and a judge to determine the guilt or innocence of someone who has taken the life of another if it is not clear cut. This case does not seem to be clear cut. There are too many unanswered questions. In a country where the "rule of law" is the law of the land, this case begs to be under the scrutiny of the justice system and not that of a legislature who has fallen under the spell of the NRA and made laws that protect a self interested group of gun owners who believe that their rights to bear arms extend to the right to take a life in self defense with no questions asked. Justifiable self defense is legal and there are times when that is necessary. In almost all cases of justifiable self defense, justice comes down on the side of the defender. But when we make it legally possible to take the life of another when the choice was there to retreat or walk away and when the victim was not intending great bodily harm or was unarmed, we have crossed a line. And, as I heard in my church sermon this morning, we all make daily choices about how we lead our lives. Suspicion, fear, anger, cynicism and hate can lead to making one decision. Believing in a more hopeful, trusting, open, and loving relationship with each other can lead one to make yet a different choice. What choices are we making as a society when the life of another human being can be taken in the instant of a wrong decision? What choices are we making as a society when the person who has made that wrong decision is allowed to go free without having to be held accountable one way or the other by a jury of his or her own peers?
ADDENDUM TO THIS POST
This new video with Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC is a good capsule of the events leading to the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the reasons why this case has so many unanswered questions. Please watch it: