'Stand your ground' laws rattle US politics, society
The George Zimmerman murder case in Florida focused attention on the state's controversial 'stand-your-ground' law. Critics want to repeal such laws, but that seems unlikely. At least 22 states have 'stand-your-ground' laws.
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Mr. Zimmerman’s legal team did not use “stand your ground” as part of its successful defense against murder and manslaughter charges. But the judge cited the law, chapter and verse, in her instructions to the six-woman jury that set Zimmerman free.
Now, “stand your ground” is the focus of political and public debate – featuring elements of gun control, race relations, and criminal justice – over how to act in ways that prevent such deadly violence.
More than 100 cities and towns across the country held “Justice for Trayvon” rallies Saturday at which “stand your ground” was a featured issue.
“We are trying to change laws so that this never, ever happens again,” civil rights activist and MSNBC host Al Sharpton told the crowd in New York.
Speaking earlier in the week to a NAACP convention in Orlando, US Attorney General Eric Holder said, "It's time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods,” an obvious reference to “stand your ground” laws.
In his unusual comments on race to reporters in the White House press room Friday, President Obama was more explicit.
“If we're sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there's a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we'd like to see?” he asked.
In the Zimmerman case, the President continued: “If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.”
Speaking on CNN Sunday, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said a review of what he called such “very controversial legislation” would be appropriate.
After its August recess, a Senate judiciary subcommittee will hold a hearing on “stand your ground” laws, chairman Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois said Friday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee on Constitution, civil rights and human rights “will examine the gun lobby’s and the American Legislative Exchange Council’s influence in creating and promoting these laws; the way in which the laws have changed the legal definition of self-defense; the extent to which the laws have encouraged unnecessary shooting confrontations; and the civil rights implications when racial profiling and ‘stand your ground’ laws mix, along with other issues,” Sen. Durbin said in a statement.