Saturday’s jury verdict in the Florida murder trial of Michael Dunn over the shooting death of Jordan Davis has once again ignited a debate about “stand-your-ground” laws when the doctrine had nothing to do with the case, and even today's Seattle Times readers are joining the discussion.
It was the same situation with the George Zimmerman case because the stand-your-ground (SYG) law was never brought in as part of the defense. So, what gives?
SYG is a concept that is abhorrent to the gun prohibition lobby for the reason that it protects the right of self-defense, whether lethal or less-so. They argue that it allows armed citizens to shoot people without provocation and get away with it. This position is best exemplified by what the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence says about the law: “vigilantism and anarchy.”
The earlier Zimmerman case and now the Dunn case, as well as an incident last Friday in Pasco in which a homeowner fatally shot an alleged intruder, have launched new media blitz about the SYG concept, with not much attention paid to justifiable self-defense.
Dunn was convicted of attempted murder but the jury could not reach a verdict on the charge of first-degree murder in Davis’ death.
In the Zimmerman case, he was not standing his ground against Trayvon Martin but lying on it, having his head bashed against cement, according to the evidence. There was no avenue of retreat, so he couldn’t even if he had wanted to.
Dunn claimed that he saw a shotgun before he opened fire on an SUV with several youths on board following an argument over loud music. If there was a shotgun, nobody found it. There is some dispute about that, with some suggesting that the alleged gun was stashed and that police didn’t look for it for some time after the incident.
In the Pasco case, SYG has nothing to do with it, but so-called “castle doctrine” — which is not the same thing and it appears the mainstream press can’t tell the difference — does. One has to do with self-defense in the home while the other deals with self-defense away from home, in a place where a person has a right to be.
Castle doctrine would apply to cases like the self-defense shooting in North Bend in April 2012 discussed by this column. That was a clear home invasion case.
Contrary to what many people believe, Washington State does not have a specific SYG statute, as does Florida. In the Evergreen State, the SYG concept is enshrined in court rulings dating back nearly a century.
Still, the Florida cases are being used to attack the law that was never part of the defense in either case, and on a broader scale, to attack self-defense and the idea that it is justifiable to take a life in defense of your own.
Gun rights advocates will argue that not all cases are like the Dunn case, nor should all armed citizens be judged on the grounds of such a case.