Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

July 31, 2013

Will ‘stand your ground’ kill some of us?


July 31, 2013 —     We didn’t agree when President Barack Obama openly second-guessed the verdict in the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida.

    As a lawyer himself, he knows the jury system is not perfect but it seems to work better than any other criminal trial options.

    However, we did agree with what the President said about reviewing the “stand your ground” laws on the books in 20 states, including Kentucky.

    That law was a major part of the defense of George Zimmerman, the shooter in the Martin case.

    Basically, “stand your ground” laws mean that neither party in a conflict is required to retreat before using deadly force.

    Interestingly, Obama’s concern received an “amen” from U. S. Sen. John McCain, his former opponent for the presidency, and a man admired by political conservatives.

    In our view, these laws should be repealed or amended to require that the disputing parties must exercise restraint by retreating from the scene.

    Kentuckians have had and exercised the right of self-defense since this was America’s frontier.

    In fact, a 1931 ruling by the Kentucky Court of Appeals, then our highest state court, contained this sentence: "It is the tradition that a Kentuckian never runs. He does not have to."

    Like many states, Kentucky passed its own “stand your ground” law in 2006 at the urging of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

    That law permits a violent response even when a non-violent option, such as leaving the scene, is available to prevent bloodshed.

    That is not comforting in times like these when law enforcement officials are worried about law-abiding citizens becoming vigilantes to deal with drug-motivated theft and assault.

    Ironically, a study by two professors at Texas A&M University found that the 20 states enacting expanded self-defense laws had an 8 percent overall increase in homicides while the national average was going down.

    In reality, these laws presume that victims are guilty until proven innocent.

    Shooting first and asking questions later may constitute exciting TV and movies but it has no place in the U.S.

    Self-defense laws and legal precedents supporting them have served America well over the years. This clearly was another example of fixing something that was not broken.

    Do we really want towns in this state to become a potential Dodge City or Tombstone from the bad old days when every dispute was settled with guns and every stranger was a threat?

    Surely Kentucky has outlived its reputation as “the dark and bloody ground.”