A deadly shooting in Florida has cast new light on so-called “stand your ground” laws. Tennessee is among the 25 states that have a law that eliminates a person’s duty to retreat when threatened with serious bodily harm or death.
George Zimmerman, 28, has been charged with second-degree murder for the Feb. 26 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The incident has sparked a debate over racial profiling and self-defense.
The fatal shooting took place in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., where Martin was staying with his father. Martin was walking back home after buying candy at a convenience store when Zimmerman spotted him and called 911. Zimmerman followed Martin even though a police dispatcher told him not to. The two got into a struggle, and Zimmerman told police Martin punched him in the nose, knocked him down and banged his head on the sidewalk. Zimmerman said he shot Martin because he feared for his life.
Legal experts said the judge could dismiss the charge based on “stand your ground,” but not if prosecutors can show Zimmerman was at fault. Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, said his client will plead not guilty and will invoke Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which gives people permission to use deadly force without having to retreat when facing grave danger.
Writing for Time.com last week, Yale Law School professor Adam Cohen noted that the first “stand your ground” law was passed in Florida in 2006. Since that time, other states — at the urging of the National Rifle Association — have followed suit.
“The argument for these laws is that they free people to defend themselves when they reasonably believe they are in danger,” Cohen writes. “The NRA and other supporters argue that state laws that impose a duty to retreat put law-abiding citizens faced with a threat in an unfair position. If they reasonably act to protect themselves, ‘stand your ground’ supporters say, they will too often be second-guessed by the legal system — and charged with homicide.”
Now, a number of civil rights groups are calling for a repeal of “stand your ground” laws in Florida and elsewhere. Leaders of the movement say they plan to use churches and social media to call attention to the issue.
“Arresting Zimmerman is the beginning of the process,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson told The Associated Press. “This is a first down, not a touchdown.”
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