Florida's Stand Your Ground law is an invitation to violent disaster. It is a radical broadening of the law of self-defence that made the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a black teen walking through a gated community in which he was a guest, seem nearly as preordained as any Greek tragedy.
And on that human tragedy, the death of a teen, is built a social disaster – the appearance of life being cheap, black life especially, and of impunity for those who kill because they insisted on standing their ground. Or who claimed that's what they did.
The principle that a person's home is a castle, and entitled to a deadly defence, has been by and large extended into the streets, in Florida and a score of other states. Stand Your Ground laws create something close to a presumption that an assailant intends to use deadly force, and that it is therefore reasonable to use deadly force in return. Killing in self-defence no longer needs to be necessary to pass legal muster – a radical departure.
Florida's numbers of justifiable homicide cases have nearly tripled since the 2005 law came in. Before the law, there were 12 a year, on average; and now there are 33. In Texas and Georgia, justifiable homicide cases have nearly doubled since those states passed Stand Your Ground laws. Most states with such laws have experienced large jumps in justifiable homicide cases, even as homicide rates have stayed flat.
Here is George Zimmerman, founder of his community's Neighbourhood Watch. He is armed and in his vehicle, keeping an eye out for trouble. This is already a disaster in the making, rooted in Floridians' right to carry a concealed handgun, a right most law-abiding societies, including Canada and the United Kingdom, don't recognize.
A young man, Mr. Martin, enters the scene, carrying a bag of Skittles and an iced tea. Mr. Zimmerman follows, phones the police, who tell him not to follow the young man. An altercation ensues, the young man is shot dead and local police don't charge Mr. Zimmerman. In these circumstances, where the facts are not publicly known, it is reasonable to infer that the law gives immunity to those who act from suspicion and fear.
No wonder the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence warns visitors not to argue with Floridians. "No retreat" gives a man with a gun the right to the last word.