This is one of those "how many things are wrong with this picture" kind of stories. William T. Woodward, a Florida veteran with mental difficulties, ambushed a neighbor with whom he'd been feuding. He fired on the neighborhood's outdoor barbecue gathering, loosing 31 rounds, killing 2 and severely injuring a third. His lawyer invoked Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. Then the defendant invoked the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive strike as self-defense.
Where should we start? How about the fairly obvious question: Why did a man with mental problems have a gun? This is a man who readily admitted to having psychological problems with anger control. He and his neighbor had been feuding for some time, and had sought injunctions against each other. Saying there were warning signs seems to understate the matter.
Next is the Bush Doctrine. In fairness, the guy's got a point. Here's the relevant bit from President Bush's foreign policy statement:
The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. There are few greater threats than a terrorist attack with WMD.
To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense.
That pretty much sums up the defendant's situation, doesn't it? At the very least, he seems to believe that his neighbor intended to do him serious harm, perhaps even kill him. And if it's good for the U.S. government, why wouldn't it be good for U.S. citizens?
Next is the "Stand Your Ground" law. By now, most of us have heard of numerous cases where it has been misused. If nothing else, we remember Trayvon Martin. Here's the relevant argument stemming from SYG:
“Imminent” means not only impending or ready to take place, but also expected, likely to occur, or hanging threateningly over one's head... That is, the speech or expressive conduct must be directed to producing expected lawlessness and must be likely to incite such action.
Well, we've got to hand it to him, don't we? He expected violence. He felt like there was a threat hanging over his head. I imagine there was some threatening speech between the two of them, promising violence.
If we wanted to get especially nitpicky, we could talk about mental healthcare and protecting potential victims. Remember the fit we had over the psychologist who did not report Colorado mass murderer James Holmes? Do we imagine that Mr. Woodward had not mentioned his neighbor to his therapist? We have a foreign policy of pre-emptive strike against entire countries, but we do not have a personal policy of pre-emptively taking guns from mentally ill people who represent an imminent threat to their neighbors. This seems... inconsistent.
From start to finish, it's hard to find anything hopeful in this story. Most likely, the judge will not accept the defense's strategy, and this guy will do some time, either as a prisoner or a mental patient. This doesn't feel like consolation, and the reason is simple. Crazed though he may be, the guy's argument pretty much makes sense. That certainly isn't a justification for killing your neighbor, but it ought to be a mandate to examine both "Stand Your Ground" laws and our foreign policy.