Friday, March 21, 2014

‘Stand your ground’ gun laws misfire


   Before state legislators stampede to pass new gun laws, they might be wise to heed Alexander Pope’s caution: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” The recent rush of gun-related laws looks more like policies in search of problems than any real protection of the public’s health and safety.
    “Stand your ground” laws have proliferated since Florida enacted the first one in 2005. By eliminating the requirement to retreat or flee, if possible, in the face of a perceived threat, these laws provide an almost unlimited right to use deadly force.
    There is something terribly wrong when arguments over teenagers’ loud music or adolescent posturing end in tragic deaths with “stand your ground” used as justification in incidents that happened in Florida and Georgia.
    The Urban Institute has uncovered further disturbing consequences of these laws by examining FBI statistics that show that when the shooter is white and the victim is black, courts rule that it’s justifiable homicide in 34 percent of cases. When the shooter is black and the victim is white, that ruling is made in only 3 percent of cases.
    Expanded concealed-carry proposals are also caught up in the rush to solution-by-gun laws. It used to be a good bet that no one was packing in bars or classrooms. Now, fantasy football bets or bad breakups could result in gunfire. Some proposals like one in Georgia would allow more guns in airports, apparently assuming that security agents of the Transportation Safety Administration will confiscate nail clippers, but turn a blind eye to a Glock.
    The rush to expand gun laws is about to take an even crazier turn.
    The Georgia Senate is considering allowing the “stand your ground” defense of lethal force against any criminal act, not just violent crime. This protection would apply even if the shooter is prohibited from possessing a weapon. In other words, a convicted felon, who cannot even legally carry a gun, could shoot someone, claim fear of the victim, and potentially avoid criminal consequences.
    This makes no sense.
    Any law, even a gun law, should start with a demonstrable problem and should then be a rational solution to that problem. If it is not, it is just a bad law, both foolish and dangerous.




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