Targeting America’s “Stand Your Ground” Laws

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/barjack/">barjack</a>/Flickr


Nearly three months after the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin put the spotlight on “stand your ground,” a new national organization is pressing thousands of lawmakers across the country to “reform or repeal” laws that sanction the controversial self-defense doctrine.

Second Chance on Shoot First, a nonprofit started in April by New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and a collection of progressive and civil-rights organizations, is targeting 26 states that legalized “stand your ground”—or “shoot first,” as the group calls it. “Prior to ‘Shoot First,’ people had a traditional duty to retreat from a situation outside their home when they could safely do so,” the campaign’s website states. “Now, afforded immunity and a presumption of lawfulness by the law, armed individuals can seek out opportunities to use deadly force outside their homes. And the hands of law enforcement and prosecutors are tied.”

Mother Jones has reported about how the National Rifle Association and the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council lobbied nationwide for the laws, and how the laws have hampered law enforcement in numerous cases—including the investigation into Martin’s fatal shooting.

This week, Ginny Simmons, the director of Second Chance, sent letters to more than 4,000 legislators in states with the lax defense standards, urging them to modify or discard the legal guidelines. “[E]xperience has now shown that these laws encourage vigilantism, sow confusion among police, and stymie prosecutors,” she wrote in the letter. “People carrying guns now feel emboldened to resolve conflicts with firearms even if they could safely walk away, and police and prosecutors are uncertain about which shootings may be instances of legitimate self-defense and which are murders.”

“Given the way these laws have played out in practice, a number of legislators who voted for these laws have rightly changed their minds,” Simmons added. “Reform efforts are already underway in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin.”

But the prospects for repealing “stand your ground” in most states remain dim. Since Martin was shot dead in Florida in February, incoming Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith (D) has spearheaded a small repeal movement, sending Gov. Rick Scott (R) a detailed report (PDF) outlining the law’s problems. So far, though, Smith hasn’t been able to elicit a reaction from a gun-friendly panel tasked with reviewing the law, set up by Scott and the Republican state majority last month. Nationwide, meanwhile, a Reuters/Ipsos poll from April showed that most Americans support some form of the “stand your ground” doctrine. Facing numbers like that, the campaigners for Second Chance on Shoot First may be going off half-cocked.

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate