By now the shooting of Trayvon Martin has shocked the country. The barest facts are this:
On February 26 of this year, in Sanford, Florida, George Zimmerman, a 28 year old man of white/Hispanic background, shot Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old black man.
George Zimmerman weighs 240 pounds (est.) and Trayvon Martin weighed 150 pounds (est.)
George Zimmerman had a gun and Trayvon Martin had no weapons, only a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea.
Simply because George Zimmerman asserted that he was acting in self-defense, the local police didn't detain him for questioning, didn't administer a drug or alcohol test, and didn't do a background check.
In what world can one man shoot another and just walk away? Florida, apparently. From Florida Statute 776.013 concerning justifiable use of force, the "Stand Your Ground" law, in effect since 2005, a person after being attacked:
has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
I'm not a lawyer but the intent is clear and the result now is especially clear. Also, not being a lawyer, I can't discuss legal issues or their nuances with any expertise—others have and will much better than I ever could; nevertheless, two consequences frighten me:
After being attacked, a person has no responsibility to avoid or run away from a confrontation, meaning that use of deadly force can be the first response—not the last.
Belief, which in the absence of evidence is feeling, provides sufficient justification to use deadly force.
The NRA has pushed such laws—why? I don't know what's in its heart. The superficial reason for “Stand Your Ground” laws is to make people safer by giving them the right to use guns under broader and broader circumstances. Supposedly, easy use of guns deters crime, but I fear the effect is the opposite.
U.S. nuclear strategy concerning the former Soviet Union depended on Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), which would launch catastrophic retalliatory strikes in response to a nuclear attack. The deterrent value of MAD depends on both players being rational, and on each knowing that the other has weapons locked and loaded. MAD produced a (barely) stable equilibrium that avoided nuclear conflict and kept the peace.
Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law creates its own brand of Mutually Assured Destruction—one that doesn't deter but instead encourages tragedy. Too many people, consciously or unconsciously, behave according to the "Cheney Doctrine," or the "One Percent Doctrine," promulgated by former Vice President Dick Cheney. He asserted that even if an unimaginable event has just a 1 percent chance of occurring, one should act as if it is certain. Unfortunately, by this thinking the presence of concealed weapons in states like Florida almost necessitates shooting first and asking questions later.
Therefore, I fear that George Zimmerman's life is in danger. Regardless of the result of any legal action, regardless of whether he is found guilty of any criminal act under Florida law or any law, George Zimmerman shot another person because he felt threatened. Let's take away the names and look only at the situation.
I would feel uncomfortable sitting in a bar next to a man who has killed someone. A man with an itchy trigger finger is threatening to me and likely to anyone else. I would leave as quickly as possible, but someone else may reasonably believe that he is in mortal danger and act by shooting preemptively.
If claiming self-defense is exonerating, then one person can kill another with no legal consequences, especially since the dead can't tell their side of the story, and especially if there are no witnesses. Endless rounds of vigilante justice may result. B kills A and claims self-defense. C kills B in retaliation and also claims self-defense. Then D kills C and E kills D. This cycle is madness. Mutually Assured Destruction. All one needs to avoid a murder charge is the belief—the feeling—that use of deadly force is necessary. By the One Percent Doctrine, evidence need not apply.
The opening lines to a Morris Albert song from the 70's might be an apt soundtrack to Florida's “Stand Your Ground" law:
Feelings, nothing more than feelings
. . . . .
Feelings, wo-o-o feelings,
Wo-o-o . . .