In Florida and across the country, “Stand Your Ground” laws — the same kind of legislation that authorities cited for not arresting a neighborhood-watch volunteer after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida in February — have coincided with a sharp increase in justifiable-homicide cases.Including gang bangers ("the dude attacked me first"), domestic violence abusers ("the bitch attacked me first"), and stalkers ("I wasn't following her, she attacked me"). It's become the neo-vigilante age of justifiable homicide, where routine criminals put the burden of proof on prosecutors to prove them wrong.
This sharp turn in American law — expanding the right to defend one’s home from attack into a more general right to meet force with force in any public place — began in Florida in 2005 and has spread to more than 30 other states as a result of a campaign by the National Rifle Association and a corporate-backed group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which promotes conservative bills.
In the seven years since it was enacted, the Florida law and others like it have become an effective defense for an increasing number of people who have shot others, according to state records and media reports.
These laws, many of which were funded and drafted by the National Rifle Association, often protect an individual who claims he or she killed in self-defense from being arrested. According to Pete Magrino, Florida's Fifth Circuit Assistant State Attorney in charge of homicide, the laws - which are widely opposed by law enforcement - may expose police to criminal and civil penalties if they arrest someone who is claiming self-defense.
"Since the law has changed, there has been a marked increase in what, unfortunately, under state law, is deemed to be justifiable or excusable homicide," says Pete Magrino, Florida's Fifth Circuit Assistant State Attorney in charge of homicide.
Prosecutors and police, two rather conservative groups in society, are against these laws, so you would think hundreds of justifiable homicides would put the advocates of "Shoot First" laws on the ropes.
But that's not the way conservative politics works. As the proponents of these laws dig in their spurs, expect them to keep trotting out the "Castle Doctrine" (which in Florida must apply to Disney World), armed "thugs" wearing hoodies after natural disasters, and other revanchist middle class pablum.
Meanwhile, I'd like to see Neighborhood Watch and Stand Your Ground applied to Wall Street.