A short piece I wrote for class about legislatures that have enacted public “stand your ground” laws and how these laws have enabled a greater number of successful, yet questionable, self-defense claims by individuals who have used deadly force in confrontations.
February 24, 2015
My God Given Right to Shoot… the Man Texting in the Movie Theater?
By Maria López Delgado
As a civilized society, we make informed decisions every day about the type of values we want to promote, as well as those we are willing to risk, for the sake of the greater good, or because some warranted justification exists. The law of self-defense is a perfect example of this type of reasoned decision-making. We are willing to say that one person is justified in taking another person’s life if he or she is under attack and reasonably fears imminent serious bodily harm or death. The law goes as far as excusing those who kill in self-defense of others. We are willing to make a value judgment placing the life of the person being attacked over the life of the aggressor.
However, the law of self-defense is not a free-for-all. There are strict limitations on when an individual is entitled to the privilege of using deadly force. Right? If you are a citizen of Florida, and other states with like-minded legislatures, you may be questioning just how strict such limitations really are. After Florida’s enactment of statute 776.012, the risk of unwarranted shootings has skyrocketed. This law essentially states that if you are under attack, in a place you are legally entitled to be, and not engaged in any illegal or criminal activity, you can stand your ground and shoot to kill, in order to defend your life.
So why wouldn’t Curtis Reeves think he had a right to shoot 43-year-old Chad Oulson over an argument about texting at a Florida movie theater? That’s self-defense! Right? Wrong. You see Curtis, the shooting still has to be reasonable. You must fear for your life. But we understand how this new type of “stand your ground” legislation motivates a feeling of self-entitlement to open fire on the average, annoying moviegoer. Reeves had a right to be in that movie theater, and he was not engaged in any criminal activity; however, he is the only one who has testified that Oulson turned around and punched him in the face before he fired that one, fatal shot. A jury will decide just how reasonable this particular shooting was at Reeve’s trial – scheduled for March of 2015.
What makes this relatively new piece of legislation even more questionable and alarming is the fact that the Reeves case is not an isolated incident; it is not an outlier in an otherwise flawless system of properly interpreting and applying “stand your ground” law. In fact, the Tampa Bay Times, “in the most comprehensive effort of its kind,” identified hundreds of cases in which a “stand your ground” theory of self-defense made an appearance. Of these cases, the defense was successful 70% of the time and was far more likely to be successful when the victim was black. The article raises reasons for concern, and highlights the fact that this expanded version of the law of self-defense is being used in ways we would have never reasonably thought justifiable.
“Stand your ground” laws are producing armed persons readily willing to pull the trigger at the very thought of a potential threat because they understand that a wider range of behavior is now considered self-defense. The law is inciting unequal treatment based on race, an increasing number of homicides, and a larger number of cases for prosecutors to deal with. Long story short – “stand your ground” legislation is an all-around terrible idea, incentivizing the wrong kind of values in an American society that is already far too trigger-happy. Perhaps the “real world” effects of this law are far from what legislators intended, but there is enough concern to warrant serious revision of legislation that is increasing public risk and chaos.