Tag: stand your ground laws

Task Force to Examine Stand Your Ground Law

Florida Governor Rick Scott has just announced the formation of a task force that will examine the gun laws of that state, including the Stand Your Ground law that has been under scrutiny since the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in late February.

On Monday afternoon Cato will be hosting a panel discussion on the Stand Your Ground laws featurning Clayton Cramer, co-author of the recent Cato study Tough Targets, Massad Ayoob, the well-known firearms trainer and author of In the Gravest Extreme, and Steven Jansen, vice president of the Office of Prosecuting Attorneys.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says many states have unwisely enacted what he calls “Shoot First” laws and is now working to have them repealed.  Our panel of experts will examine the pros and cons of these laws next week.

Related posts here and here.

Democracy EXPOSED!

I found a release put out by the American Legislative Exchange Council today a little too meek. So let’s talk about the debate around ALEC, a group I’ve been involved with as a volunteer advisor since before I joined Cato. (The Communications and Technology Task Force used to be called “Telecommunications and Information Technology,” but that didn’t work well in our acronym-happy world.) ALEC is under seige because of alleged ties between its backing of “Stand Your Ground” laws and the Trayvon Martin case, in which a young black man was killed by a neighborhood watch officer of…uncertain ethnic background.

Tim Lynch and Walter Olson have made us aware that the Martin tragedy does not actually implicate Stand Your Ground. Tim has also made us aware of a case in which Stand Your Ground is implicated, that of an elderly Detroit man who shot and killed an 18-year-old entering his home armed with a handgun at 1:30 a.m.

There’s no question, as Tim said, that Zimmerman’s taking of Trayvon Martin’s life warrants intense scrutiny. (The very latest: Prosecutors intend to charge Zimmerman.) While that plays out, Cato will address self-defense law and gun rights at an event entitled “’Stand Your Ground’ Laws: Self-Defense or License to Kill?” on April 23rd, which I encourage you to attend or watch.

But ALEC is an odd target for scrutiny of the quality it’s getting. ALEC describes itself as dedicated to “the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.” Toward this end it “enlist[s] state legislators from all parties and members of the private sector who share ALEC’s mission.”

Anti-ALEC site ALECExposed.org characterizes things differently:

Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called “model bills” reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations. In ALEC’s own words, corporations have “a VOICE and a VOTE” on specific changes to the law that are then proposed in your state. DO YOU?

It’s very exciting stuff—the idea that people would organize themselves to affect the public policies of their states and nation.

The latter characterization of ALEC doesn’t square very well with the Trayvon Martin case, though. The ALECExposed site itself emphasizes that the National Rifle Association works through ALEC to promote and defend Stand Your Ground and other gun rights and self-defense laws. The NRA is a corporation, yes, but it’s an issue advocacy organization. It’s no more the huge or global corporation ALECExposed aims at than the Center for Media and Democracy, hosts of ALECExposed.

The point is made, though: Corporations are trying to influence our public policy! And they are working closely with state legislators to do it!

The horror.

I’ve looked, and there is no NCSLExposed.org. (Domain available!) The National Conference of State Legislatures is a similar group to ALEC: larger, center-left, and government-funded. In 2010, $10 million of NCSL’s $16.8 million general fund came from state legislatures. Most of the remainder comes from grants from federal agencies such as the federal Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Energy, and Transportation, and from private foundations.

Here, let me re-phrase that:

Through the government-funded National Conference of State Legislatures, governments and foundations try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. Their efforts reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge governments and corporations. In NCSL’s own words, it is an advocate for the interests of state governments before Congress and federal agencies. IS IT AN ADVOCATE FOR YOU?

I’ve done my best to make NCSL sound malign, though it’s not. Neither is ALEC malign. I agree with some of what both organizations do, and I disagree with some of what both organizations do.

And I suppose that reveals the trouble with the trouble with ALEC. It is a highly selective attack on one organization that has the peculiar quality of advancing the aims of the business sector, of libertarians, and conservatives. A larger organization that advances the aims of the government sector enjoys no attention in current debate. The hundreds of other organizations that advance the aims of various other sectors—unions, for example—not a peep. Even though RIGHT NOW unions are trying to influence public policy in ways they believe will help workers!

The First Amendment’s protections for freedom of speech, association, and petition of the government have in their background a vision for how our political society should work. Anybody should get to say anything they want, and anybody should organize however they want to advocate for the governing policies they want.

The opponents of ALEC’s positions should advocate the substantive polices they prefer, and they are certainly within their rights to do it in whatever way they prefer. Politics never runs out of ways to disappoint, though, and as a person who tries to deal with the substance of issues, working across partisan and ideological lines, I am amazed at and disappointed by the incoherence of the attack on ALEC.

And I am also disturbed by its anti-democratic and anti-speech quality. The implication I take from the attack on ALEC is that some groups, representing some interests, should not be able to participate in making our nation’s and states’ public policies.

There is one ray of light in all this: NCSL is featuring its concerns with REAL ID, the national ID law, on its homepage. And ALECExposed has a posted a buffoonishly marked-up version of ALEC’s 2007 resolution against REAL ID. NCSL would evidently back the implementation of a national ID if Congress were to fund it. Given its principles, ALEC would not.

Even this debate may help inform the public.

Stand Your Ground: Law and Evidence

One objection that has been raised repeatedly against the “Stand Your Ground” laws is that gun owners can kill a person and then all we have is the shooter’s side of the story!  The police will then have nothing to go on and so people are going to easily get away with murder. It seems to me that that objection just plays on the average person’s ignorance of the criminal law and how it works in practice.

Here’s an item about a killing from today’s Washington Post.  A jury must decide whether a stabbing was self-defense or manslaughter.  Excerpt:

Did a District woman stab her ex-boyfriend to death because he refused to roll over and share the bed? Or was the woman, who had allegedly been abused by the man before, fearful for her life and protecting herself?

That’s what a jury will have to decide in a trial that began Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court. Patricia A. Cave, 50, is charged with voluntary manslaughter while armed in the June 2 death of Lamont Warren, 36.

Prosecutors plan to use Cave’s words against her. After Cave was arrested, she told detectives in a videotaped interview — a portion of which was played for the seven-man, seven-woman jury — that when Warren visited her on the night he was killed, she allowed him to sleep in her bed while she smoked, drank and watched television in the living room.

When she returned to her bed, she told the detectives, she found Warren sprawled on top of her covers. “I said, ‘Can you get on the couch or just scoot over?’ ”

Cave said Warren refused to roll over and began berating her. Then, she said, he grabbed her by the throat and choked her. Cave said she reached for a knife on her nightstand, the two started wrestling and the knife plunged into Warren’s chest.

Although Warren was able to seek assistance from a neighbor in a nearby apartment, there’s no indication that we got his “side of the story.” All we have is Cave’s account! Why isn’t this case receiving more attention?!  Maybe because it is receiving the level of attention it deserves–local crime trial, metro section.

In this previous post, I argue that the Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws apply to a limited set of situations–home invasions and cases where a person is under attack.  In those situations, should we be surprised by the dearth of witnesses? No, because criminals choose the time, place, and victim–and they often choose to strike when the victim is alone and the police are not on the scene. So is it sensible to repeal Stand Your Ground laws, designed to help the innocent, because of evidentiary problems brought about by the criminal attackers? I don’t think so.  Critics of the SYG law need to come up with a better argument than that because the evidence problem they point to is not unique to the SYG law.  True, detectives and prosecutors like cases that have videotapes and great witnesses who saw the whole thing, but that rarely happens and they deal with it by introducing other evidence to support their case for a criminal conviction in situations where a self-defense claim is contrived.

This paper has lots of examples of ordinary people using guns to defend themselves in a variety of circumstances.  Related item here.