One of the things I ‘ve found interesting for decades is how many Americans are under the impression that if they want to do something, it must be legal. No matter how carefully I’d explain that it wasn’t true, such conversations invariably ended with the person waving his hand, shaking his head and saying, “No, no! I got a right!”
And finally, they’re telling the truth. Thanks to the NRA and ALEC and the “Stand Your Ground” laws they’ve propogated, the jumpiest, most paranoid, gun-toting toads in the majority of states get to blow holes in imagined bad guys — and in most cases, no one’s going to say boo to them. Who could have known that this law would mean the number of justifiable homicides in those states would triple? Why, just about anyone with common sense:
When Billy Kuch knocked on the wrong door, he had a cigarette in one hand and a shirt in the other. The homeowner, Gregory Stewart, stepped outside, stood his ground, fired a round from his semiautomatic into Kuch’s chest, and in the eyes of the state of Florida, committed no crime.
Three years after that shooting, in a Land O’ Lakes subdivision called Stagecoach Village, Kuch is alive but damaged by his injuries and the shock of being shot at point-blank range. Stewart is free but lying low, still sought out by neighbors and others who want him to account for his actions.
“I have no problem with people owning guns to protect themselves,” says Bill Kuch, Billy’s father. “But somehow, we’ve reached the point where the shooter’s word is the law. The victim doesn’t even get his day in court. I don’t think most Americans realize it, but that’s where we are.”
In Florida and across the country, “Stand Your Ground” laws — the same kind of legislation that authorities cited for not arresting a neighborhood-watch volunteer after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida in February — have coincided with a sharp increase in justifiable-homicide cases.
Prosecutors still reject many claims of self-defense under the new law, and no long-term studies definitively tie the rise in justifiable killings to the passage of laws that relieve citizens of the responsibility to back away from threats. But the Martin case has focused a spotlight on incidents in which the mere statement that people feel endangered allows them to — depending on your sense of what’s right — defend themselves against thugs or act like vigilantes.
This sharp turn in American law — expanding the right to defend one’s home from attack into a more general right to meet force with force in any public place — began in Florida in 2005 and has spread to more than 30 other states as a result of a campaign by the National Rifle Association and a corporate-backed group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which promotes conservative bills.
Florida has been at the forefront of expanding gun rights for decades, ever since an NRA lobbyist named Marion Hammer, the NRA’s first female president, became a force in the state capitol in Tallahassee.
[…] In Florida, where looters appeared in the wake of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Hammer launched her drive for the new law based on the case of James Workman, a 77-year-old Pensacola man who fatally shot an intruder who entered the trailer Workman was living in after the storm damaged his house.
Prosecutors decided not to charge Workman, but many lawmakers pronounced themselves appalled that he had to endure months of uncertainty before being cleared.
Hammer told legislators her bill would protect citizens who simply defended themselves: “You can’t expect a victim to wait before taking action to protect herself and say, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Criminal, did you drag me into this alley to rape and kill me, or do you just want to beat me up and steal my purse?’ ”
The Florida Senate passed the bill unanimously.