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Murder as Self-Defense: Florida’s Gun Zealots on a Rampage

| March 25, 2012

Plaything of fanatics. (Wetsun)

By Susan Clary

You have to wonder if they lose sleep over the vote they cast that day in 2005. In the last month, they have watched silently as the small community of Sanford — the entire nation, really — has been torn apart by the consequences of a law they supported.

I am talking about the 39 state senators and 94 state House members who voted for the “stand your ground” law.

The law was a priority of the National Rifle Association, a powerful force in politics. The law authorizes a person to kill another in self-defense anywhere and any time he feels in danger. It removed the obligation to retreat. If you shoot in self-defense, you’re immune from criminal prosecution and civil liability.

Touted as a law to protect innocents, it has instead led to killings during heated arguments and cases of mistaken identity. In the most recent case, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who followed him against the advice of a 911 operator.

Zimmerman’s story of self-defense seems so implausible that people across the country are crying racism and demanding justice. Late Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott said he would appoint a task force to take testimony and recommend changes. He’s also appointed an outside prosecutor to take a second look.

It’s hard to comprehend how what Zimmerman did fits the law’s legal limits. But tracking Martin through the neighborhood was not illegal. Getting out of the vehicle to approach him was not illegal. What happened next is unknown, a version told only by the person with a self-interest in the outcome: Zimmerman.

If you wonder why Zimmerman hasn’t been charged, it’s because police didn’t find enough evidence to dispute his story, even with the 911 calls and eyewitness accounts. The state attorney agreed.

florida voices columnists flaglerlive

“Stand your ground” is problematic because it eliminates the prosecutor’s role in determining whether a person’s account is reasonable. In Zimmerman’s case, if he said he felt his life was in imminent danger, it presumes his actions were justified.

It is not possible to say how many people have successfully used the law to defend themselves in murder cases because Florida does not collect data that way. But in the seven years since its passage, it’s been invoked at least 93 times, with 65 deaths, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

It’s gotten out of hand.

Consider:

  • Two men argue whether a teenager should be allowed to skateboard in a Tampa park. The fight ends with one man shooting the other dead in front of his 8-year-old daughter.
  • A 15-year-old died after two gangs brawled in Tallahassee, leaving no one accountable for his death.
  • A man shot and killed two people during an altercation aboard a 35-foot sailboat anchored near Riviera Beach.
  • A driver attacked and killed another with an ice pick during a road rage incident.
  • The owner of a towing company killed a man he claimed tried to run him over while retrieving his car from an impound lot.
  • A car salesman shot another man in a barroom argument over cigarettes.
  • A decorated Army veteran and father of two was killed outside his elderly mother’s Cape Coral home after a neighbor mistook him for a thief.
  • A drunken Land ‘O Lakes man was shot, but not killed, after he mistakenly tried the door at the wrong house in his neighborhood.
  • A man chased and killed a burglar in Miami and successfully claimed self-defense, though he shot the man in the back.

The stories go on. How many are needed to admit this law is a grave mistake?

The Trayvon Martin case may become another miscarriage of justice, but don’t fault the Sanford police chief, the Sanford mayor or the state attorney.

This legacy belongs squarely on the shoulders of former Gov. Jeb Bush and the 133 state lawmakers who ignored the advice of public safety experts for fear of crossing the NRA.

Formerly a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and Orlando Sentinel, Susan Clary is a freelance writer in Orlando. She may be reached at sclary@floridavoices.com

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25 Responses for “Murder as Self-Defense: Florida’s Gun Zealots on a Rampage”

  1. Some guy says:

    The law we now have is a good one. If someone hurts or kills another with or with out a gun the law can still put them on trial for that act. The law does not give us the right to kill and “say” it was self defence. What it does do is in court is give you or i legal “cover” if we need to defend ourself.

  2. GOP says:

    The law should be looked at but not by liberals who are bias. The state should look at it and not the media.

    • The Truth says:

      Why does it always have to be about politics? Why not look at these things with a clear mind instead of always bring politics into it? This law DOES need to be looked at, plain and simple.

    • jc says:

      Hey GOP! The Republicans are not BIASED give me a break!

  3. GOP says:

    Some guy. You are right. I think lawyers twist and put spins on it to get their clients off.. This again goes back to our liberal judges.

  4. Angela Smith via Facebook says:

    Your subtitle is stunningly appropriate.

  5. Geezer Butler says:

    Wow, just read the title of this article and the caption to the magazine photo.
    Talk about anti-gun zealotry! Give me a break Susan Clary.

    This lady should move to New York City, or Chicago so that she can bask in her anti-gun “paradise.”
    I want her to ride the subway and be sure to give those urban youths some folding money when they request it with a Taurus pistol in her snout! Sell that hysterical propaganda elsewhere because we aren’t buying it here.

    What happened to Trayvon Martin is a crime that was committed by a dim-witted, glory seeking, bigoted a-hole. It has NOTHING to do with “stand your ground.” Accounts of this incident point to Mr. Zimmerman
    pursuing a young man whom he suspected as a potential felon in the making. He did this in direct disobedience of the police. He should be in jail! I understand that he muttered “F*****g coon” as he hung up with the police. (Google it) So what we have here is a civil rights violation that resulted in murder.
    Couple that with incompetent police, and you have the makings of a race riot, and dumb articles like this.

    Whether or not you like guns, they are here to stay. And most of us aren’t going to disarm so that only criminals have them. We’re anti-victim zealots, Ms. Clary

    Lastly, “Stand Your Ground” is a perfectly logical law, but it’s subject to being abused like other laws which assign us privileges. Go buy some train tokens.

  6. B. Claire says:

    “This legacy belongs squarely on the shoulders of former Gov. Jeb Bush and the 133 state lawmakers who ignored the advice of public safety experts for fear of crossing the NRA.”

    The NRA paid good money for:

    …..Former Gov. Jeb Bush and the 133 state lawmakers…

    …..and similar #s for the other 20 state’ ‘lawmakers’ with similar laws

    In turn:

    These Republican/Conservative “leaders,” knowing their flock [not a particularly Mensa sorta crowd] liked shiny objects that went boom, the bigger the better, would follow like little ducklings. ‘What do you mean I can only buy 67 guns per day?’

    They gobbled up inane talking points like ‘Guns don’t kill people, people do.’

    Meanwhile NRA sits back and counts their tons of gun manufacturer and ‘the end is near-better build a bunker & buy lots of guns’ membership dues cash.

    Pretty much like “Corporations Are People”…Listen 99% of American workers…give us your money and you certainly don’t need no stinkin ‘rights.’

    The uber irony: these same little ‘ripped off’ ducklings can’t vote fast enough to willingly give all their hard earned cash and all their hard earned rights over to their Republican/Conservative/NRA & other Corp “leaders.”

    What a mess they’ve made …eliminating a middle class…without which this little USA experiment is struggling mightily.

  7. So sad says:

    What about the case just last week of Paul Miller shooting and killing Dana Mulhall. He claimed that was self defense. He committed this murder because he thought he could get away with it. Without this tolerance for vigilanty (wild west) justice, many people (most of them decent people) would not be gunned down senselessly. I know that Mr. Miller has been charged but this still has to go to trial and needs a conviction. Short memory you have. Please don’t overlook the senseless death of this man.

  8. Sally says:

    The ‘zealots on a rampage’ are race baiters calling a mestizo hispanic ‘White’, pretending that Trevon-hood didn’t attack Zimmerman, and creating a cause -celeb out of this when it’s only about race. Had the victim been White, the shooter black, the national press would never pick up the story – can you name the White victims of black attacks that occurred this month alone/

  9. PCer says:

    I am a liberal and not biased. I am offended by your comment. I think this is a good law. However, there should be a clause that states if you have a way to retreat, you should take it before taking another’s life.

    • some guy says:

      What i see as a need for change in it is . When such an incedent happens the law should say that the state must open a grang jury on it to see if the person should be held for trial. if that would happen in each and every case of stand your ground also in a timely manner we would be all better for it.

  10. B. Claire says:

    One more, not too frequently mentioned, horrific point about Sanford police ‘work’ on this case…

    “Trayvon’s body laid in the medical examiner’s office FOR T H R E E D A Y S before his parents were notified. During this period of time the parents were frantically searching for him and had even reported him missing to the Sanford police. These facts not only illustrate the worst type of police behavior in a mortality event such as described above, but they also provide an excellent bridge to the other side of this discussion which is the concept of southern justice for the American Negro.”

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/03/21/1076520/-Florida-Strange-Fruit-The-Trayvon-Martin-Killing

    • SSDD says:

      Funny, in the interview with his father tonight on Dateline, it was the next morning before the detective told him about his sons death, but couldn’t get into the exact details right then. Two days later he was given the details of what happened. So that must of been where you got your three days from…

  11. Sammy says:

    What a ” Race-Baiting” article. Listen and listen good, there has always been criminals and there has always been victims. If you think for a nano-second that you can turn the planet into a “Utopia” free of crime and criminals, your WRONG. The law of ‘ Stand your Ground” has saved many Floridians alone.
    This shooting will be Judged by the Law and if it finds that a crime was committed then WHO EVER turns out to be the criminal will face justice. By EGGING this ” RACE-BAITING” propaganda will only start more trouble and more violence.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      Sammy boy, I want you to name me one person who’s life this law saved. Just one. If you felt threatened enough, you would shoot and worry about the old law later. And you would walk if you were right.

      This law just gives mean spirited jerks ideas.

    • Anonymous says:

      Not sure if the this law has saved many lives, but we need cool heads

      This from the Chicago Tribune.

      “SANFORD — Members of the New Black Panther Party are offering a $10,000 reward for the “capture” of George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who shot Trayvon Martin.

      New Black Panther leader Mikhail Muhammad announced the reward during a protest in Sanford Saturday. And when asked whether he was inciting violence, Muhammad replied defiantly: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

      The bounty announcement came moments after members of the group called for the mobilization of 10,000 black men to capture Zimmerman, who shot Trayvon in a gated Sanford community on Feb. 26″

      …”The Southern Poverty Law Center says the New Black Panther Party, a black-separatist group founded in 1989, is “virulently racist and anti-Semitic,” and its leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law officers.”…

      Zimmerman is – part white, part Jewish, part law enforcement association, and more

      http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/os-trayvon-martin-new-black-panthers-protest-20120324,0,1231157.story?page=2&track=rss

  12. So sad says:

    Ohhhhh…its because Dana Mulhall (and Paul Miller) are white that this case was overlooked in this article? What was I thinking!

  13. palmcoaster says:

    This law has to be rejected.

  14. SSDD says:

    So, did anyone watch Dateline tonight? I mean with the “Stand Your Ground Law” being such a heated topic over the last few weeks. They talked to the former Representitive that wrote the bill. In his words he said the Sanford Police were wrong in the Trayvon Martin case. The bill is providing a self defense claim. He said No where in the bill does it state that it is ok to follow someone, confront them and shoot them. How the hell is this guy even carrying a gun. He’s got a criminal record of battery on a LEO and resisting arrest. A week and a half ago in Flagler Beach when a man shot another man from his front yard seperated by a fence, he claimed self defense. Well guess what, I guess Flagler Beach along with the State’s Attorney’s Office & FDLE did a better job of investigating because once the autopsy was completed and the report came back, the shooter was arrested. Why, self defense isn’t happeneing when you shoot someone in the back trying to get away from you.

    All you people who are crying the blues saying the law needs to be repealed, must be nice to live in your Never Never Land where bad things never happen to you or your family. I have a gun in my home and I’ll tell you what, you want to come after me or my faimly in my home, your damn right you’re gonna get your ass shot.

  15. palmcoaster says:

    @ So sad. The difference is that Miller is in jail after two days of killing Dana and the shooter of this 17 years old is still walking around. The justice perception is obviusly bias on this case since February that the youngster was killed.

  16. NortonSmitty says:

    Here’s an explanation of where the SYG law came from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/opinion/krugman-lobbyists-guns-and-money.html?_r=1 Hint it wasn’t by a grass roots request by the people.

  17. David says:

    The law was put in to place to protect all good law abiding citizens of Florida. Keep it just the way it is.

  18. Kip Durocher says:

    “Wheresa, it is the mission of the American Legistative Exchange Council (ALEC) to advance Jeffersonian principles of free markets. ”
    “I say, the earth belongs to each of these generations during its course,
    fully and in its own right. The second generation receives it clear of the debts
    and incumbrances of the first, the third of the second, and so on. For if the
    first could charge it with a debt, then the earth would belong to the dead and
    not to the living generation. Then, no generation can contract debts greater
    than may be paid during the course of its own existence.”
    Letter to James Madison (6
    September 1789) ME 7:455, Papers 15:393

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