A series of high-profile shooting cases has turned the eyes of the nation to Florida, leading many to call for a re-examination of the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law. The law, meant to protect victims who shoot their attackers, has been at the center of several controversial cases, from the George Zimmerman trial to the most recent trial of Michael Dunn.
The latest trial has once again raised concern that the “Stand Your Ground” law as written should be re-evaluated. Although the law exists to protect victims from prosecution for defending themselves, we must encourage people to take reasonable measures to resolve conflicts before resorting to extreme violence.
Dunn was convicted last week of attempted murder after he fired his weapon into an SUV full of teenagers during an argument about the teens’ loud music in November 2012. During the altercation, Dunn fatally wounded 17-year-old Jordan Davis.
Florida law allows the use of deadly force if someone reasonably believes the force will prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. Dunn said he felt threatened by Davis and believed he had a gun. No weapon was recovered from the vehicle.
Although justice may have been served, with Dunn eligible for up to 60 years in jail despite a mistrial on the murder charge, there are many other ways this story could have ended. Dunn could have chosen to avoid the conflict and ignore the teens, to drive away or even call law enforcement if he felt threatened. Without such a broad defense law on the books, Dunn might have thought twice before firing 10 bullets into the fleeing SUV.
The law has its purpose and its merits. We don’t want reasonable people fearful of retaliation by law enforcement for defending themselves in a would-be deadly conflict. At the same time, too often cases of “shoot first, ask questions later” are defended using this broadly worded law with significant loopholes.
Given Florida’s political landscape, it’s not likely that the law will be repealed. However, some efforts to tighten the language and bring the law back to its original purpose are certainly necessary. Further, it is important that people embroiled in conflict take reasonable stock of the situation before pulling the trigger. If Dunn had just stopped and considered other possibilities, two lives could have been saved that day.