Stand Your Ground

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Stand Your Ground laws, also called "castle doctrine" or "shoot first" laws, are state laws that provide legal immunity to a person who uses lethal force if they believe doing so will prevent their own death or bodily harm. These laws go beyond the common law legal doctrine of self-defense or the right to use force in one's own home, to create immunity from prosecution and civil liability, whenever people feel threatened. These laws have received increasing scrutiny in light of their role in protecting the killer of Trayvon Martin and others. [1]

ALEC "Stand Your Ground" Model Legislation

ALEC has a model bill called the Castle Doctrine Act that states have used as a template to adopt their own "Stand Your Ground" legislation. The bill was originally offered to ALEC by the National Rifle Association. NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer assisted in writing the bill, and subsequently lobbied heavily for its passage in Florida. Following the passage of the bill into law, Hammer introduced the bill to ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force (now the Public Safety and Elections Task Force). Since ALEC's adoption of the model bill (which passed unanimously) [2], 16 states have passed legislation that draws directly from the Castle Doctrine Act. [3] ALEC's senior staffer on gun policy, Michael Hough, boasted on NRA radio that this legislation was "one of our model bills we have states introduce." [4] Walmart was the head of the Task Force that passed the Castle Doctrine Act in 2005, and also happened to be "the largest seller of rifles and ammunition in the U.S. [5] Key provisions of the Florida Stand Your Ground bill are now law in 34 states, though some states are considering repealing or amending them in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin.

Center for Media & Democracy's infographic (PDF) shows some of the connections between the NRA, ALEC, and the effect of the ALEC/NRA Shoot First law.


About ALEC
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.


Role in Trayvon Martin's Killing

On February 26, 2012 Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school student from Sanford Florida, was found shot and killed. He was shot by a private citizen named George Zimmerman, who reported to the police that the murder was committed in self-defense. Zimmerman was not arrested, even though Martin was unarmed, carrying a bag of skittles and a bottle of iced tea. [6] Florida's 'Stand Your Ground Law,' which was the basis for the ALEC model bill, may make the prosecution of Zimmerman exceedingly difficult. Because the law establishes a "presumption of immunity" for a killer who claims they were acting in self-defense, the existence of only a few eyewitnesses may allow Zimmerman to evade prosecution. [7]

Role in Darius Simmons's Killing

An unarmed, 13-year-old boy was shot and killed by his 75-year-old neighbor in Wisconsin on May 31, 2012, even as the boy put up his hands and tried to run away. If the incident happened just a few feet closer to the killer's house, the state's new Castle Doctrine law may have been invoked to protect the shooter from prosecution; the law more likely would have applied had the National Rifle Association's full version of its "model" bill had been enacted. According to law enforcement filings[8], 13-year-old Darius Simmons was retrieving his family's garbage cans from the street when his neighbor, 75-year-old John Spooner, confronted him about stealing $3000 in shotguns from Spooner's house. Darius is African-American; Spooner is white. Darius denied stealing the guns, and his mother, who was also outside, called at Spooner to leave her son alone. Spooner then pulled out a 9mm handgun. The boy reportedly raised his hands in surrender and Spooner shot him once in the chest. The boy turned and ran, and Spooner fired again. He collapsed about ten feet from a small play area marked "Children's Park." The sixth-grader was pronounced dead at the hospital. Darius' family said he was in school at the time the guns were reportedly stolen. Police searched Darius' house after he was shot -- and questioned his mother for two hours[9] -- but did not find any of Spooner's guns. The boy and his mother moved to the neighborhood just one month earlier. "He was gunned down for something he did not do," his aunt, Betty McCuiston, said. [10]

In December 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a version of the "Castle Doctrine Act," which resembled a model bill[11] conceived by the NRA and adopted by ALEC's corporate and legislative members[12]. Because of the new Wisconsin law, no charges will be filed in the shooting of 20-year-old Bo Morrison, who was shot and killed by a homeowner in Slinger, Wisconsin as the young man hid on a porch after police broke-up an underage drinking party. In Florida, the law was initially cited to protect Trayvon Martin's killer George Zimmerman from arrest. Like Darius Simmons, both Bo Morrison and Trayvon Martin were black and unarmed; their shooters were not.

The law, pushed under the name "Stand Your Ground," is more accurately described as a "shoot first" law since it significantly alters the common law "Castle Doctrine" that for decades has recognized a right of self-defense in one's home. The ALEC/NRA model bill changes state law from recognizing a right to assert self-defense in front of a jury, to one that grants legal immunity to a person who uses "deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another." Rather than providing a defense against prosecution if a shooter alleges self-defense, it creates a presumption of immunity if a person alleges they felt threatened. It also essentially bars the deceased's family from bringing a civil suit.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is launching an inquiry[13] into these laws for racial bias. In Florida, evidence suggests that shooters who invoke the law are more likely to escape prosecution if the victim is black. [14]

As written, the ALEC/NRA model provides legal immunity to a person "anywhere they have a right to be." This is why George Zimmerman, who shot Trayvon Martin on the street, was able to initially invoke Florida's law. In adopting the ALEC/NRA model, Wisconsin narrowed its scope to only apply to the area around one's home or business[15] (which includes lawns, swimming pools, and perhaps even sidewalks) and for when the shooter believes a person was unlawfully entering their property. James Spooner shot Darius Simmons on the street, which is just beyond the reach of the state's Castle Doctrine / shoot first law. Had the shooting happened just a few feet away -- on the sidewalk or Spooner's lawn -- and Spooner said the boy was unlawfully entering his property, the law could have come into play to prevent prosecution[16]. Spooner has been charged with First Degree Homicide. But if the NRA had its way, an expanded version of the legislation would have become law in Wisconsin, and potentially protected Spooner from being charged.

Criticisms

Stand Your Ground laws may disproportionately endanger persons of color. By permitting people to "engage in vigilantism without liability," these laws could "put the decisions to take a life in the hands of a person whose fears are motivated by prejudice and racial bias." In addition, the laws could lead to dramatic increases in "justifiable homocides." Since 2005 when the law was passed in Florida, the number of justifiable homocides has jumped by three -fold, leading former US attorney Kendall Coffey to describe Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law as "a license to kill." [17]

In June of 2012, two studies were released indicating that Stand Your Ground laws lead to more deaths[18], contradicting claims of the legislators who passed the laws, as well as the NRA's and ALEC's. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a private non-profit and the largest economics research organization in the United States, released a working paper that concludes states that pass Stand Your Ground laws see a combined increase of between 4 and 8 additional deaths each month. Researchers from Texas A&M University also released a study finding states that passed the laws saw an increase in homicides between 7 and 9 percent annually, which amounts to between 500 and 700 homicides cumulatively, with no drop in violent crime rates.

Chandler B. McClellan and Erdal Tekin, the authors of the NBER working paper, found that the law's provision that extends the doctrine "to any place a person has a legal right to be ... causes the increase in homicides." They looked at the 18 states that closely followed the ALEC/NRA "model" bill and extended immunity to people who use force anywhere they have a "right to be," and compared them to states that passed versions of the law without such provisions. McClellan and Tekin claim their analysis ruled out other explanations for their findings, such as national homicide rates. "Trends in homicide rates are fairly similar across states that passed SYG laws and those that did not prior to passage of these laws," they wrote. In the wake of Trayvon Martin's killing, issues of race surrounded the controversial "Stand Your Ground" laws (Martin was African-American and his killer George Zimmerman is a white Hispanic). However, McClellan and Tekin found that Stand Your Ground laws primarily result in an increase in firearm-related deaths among whites, particularly white males. "We find no evidence these laws cause an increase in homicides among blacks," the authors wrote.

Researchers Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra of Texas A&M's Department of Economics conducted a similar analysis, and considered whether the laws reduce annual homicides and crime rates based on FBI Uniform Crime Reports (McClellan and Tekin used monthly data from the U.S. Vital Statistics). Cheng and Hoekstra stated: "We find the [Stand Your Ground] laws increase murder and manslaughter by a statistically significant 7 to 9 percent, which translates into an additional 500 to 700 homicides per year nationally across the states that adopted [the laws]." Additionally, the authors said they found "no evidence of deterrence effects on burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault." The laws "do not appear to offer any hidden spillover benefit to society at large," the report says.

Rallies Against ALEC for Role in Spreading Stand Your Ground Laws

On March 29, a protest at ALEC's Washington DC headquarters was staged by a "diverse coalition of advocacy organizations, activists, and national leaders," including the National Urban League, NAACP, ColorOfChange, Moveon.org, AFL-CIO, SEIU, ProgressNow, Center for Media and Democracy, Presente, Public Campaign, Common Cause, People for the American Way, UltraViolet, Faith in Public Life, National Council of Churches, and USAction. The protesters urged in a letter delivered to ALEC at the rally that ALEC reveal all funding its received from the NRA, and demanded that ALEC stop supporting "Kill at Will" bills. [19]

Resources

References

  1. Rebekah Wilce, Faces of NRA/ALEC "Stand your Ground" Law PR Watch, March 29, 2012
  2. Brendan Fischer, "ALEC Ratified the NRA-Conceived Law That May Protect Trayvon Martin's Killer" PR Watch, March 21, 2012)
  3. Brendan Fischer, "ALEC Ratified NRA-Conceived Law That May Protect Trayvon Martin's Killer" PR Watch, March 21, 2012
  4. Lisa Graves, "Resources for Investigating ALEC/NRA Gun Bills", PR Watch, March 30, 2012
  5. Brendan Fischer, "The Corporations Bankrolling ALEC, which Has Promoted the "Stand Your Ground" Gun Law as a "Model" bill", PR Watch, March 27, 2012
  6. Matt Gutman and Lauren Effron, "Trayvon Martin Case: Timeline of Events", ABC News, March 28, 2012
  7. Brendan Fischer, "ALEC Ratified NRA-Conceived Law That May Protect Trayvon Martin's Killer" PR Watch, March 21, 2012
  8. Bruce Vielmetti "75-year-old man charged with fatally shooting boy, 13" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 1, 2012
  9. "Elderly man pleads not guilty in Darius Simmons murder case" WTMJ, June 11, 2012
  10. Meg Kissinger "Friends, family unite to recall slain teen" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 2, 2012
  11. 2011 Wisconsin Act 94 Wisconsin bill enacted December 7, 2011; accessed September 4, 2012
  12. Brendan Fischer "ALEC Ratified the NRA-Conceived Law That May Protect Trayvon Martin's Killer" PR Watch, March 21, 2012
  13. Yamiche Alcindor "Officials plan to take closer look at stand-your-ground laws" USA Today, June 9, 2012
  14. Gene Demby "Florida's Stand Your Ground Defense More Likely To Succeed If Victim Is Black: Study" The Huffington Post, June 6, 2012
  15. Erica Goode "N.R.A.’s Influence Seen in Expansion of Self-Defense Laws" The New York Times, April 12, 2012
  16. Bruce Vielmetti "75-year-old man charged with fatally shooting boy, 13" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 1, 2012
  17. Brendan Fischer, "ALEC Ratified NRA-Conceived Law That May Protect Trayvon Martin's Killer" PR Watch, March 21, 2012
  18. Harriet Rowan "Studies Show More People Shot to Death with ALEC/NRA “Stand Your Ground” Laws" PR Watch, July 10, 2012
  19. Groups Attempt to Deliver Letter to ALEC re: ALEC/NRA "Kill at Will" Law PR Watch, March 29, 2012