National "Stand Your Ground" debate hits home

Does the law give people a license to kill and legalize in-home murder?

The national handwringing over guns in Florida was in some ways fitting. Seven years earlier, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed the nation's first "Stand Your Ground" bill into law. Prompted in large part by the Trayvon Martin case, the Tampa Bay Times published a comprehensive study of nearly 200 Florida Stand Your Ground cases and their outcomes: Among them were cases of drug dealers avoiding murder charges, but also exonerated defendants legitimately acting in self-defense, including a woman who stood her ground after being choked and beaten by an irate tenant.

Among the Tampa Bay Times' findings: that 70 percent of those who invoke Stand Your Ground to avoid prosecution have gone free; defendants claiming Stand Your Ground are more likely to prevail if the victim is black; and that the number of cases is increasing as defense attorneys use Stand Your Ground in ways that state legislators never envisioned. Stand Your Ground claims have arisen following incidents outside an ice cream parlor, on a racquetball court, and at a school bus stop. Two-thirds of the defendants used guns, but other weapons have included an ice pick, a shovel, and a chair leg.

In November, another grisly tale emerged in Florida of an older armed man initiating an argument with a black teenager that ended in a fatal gunshot. This time 17-year-old Jordan Davis was shot by gun collector Michael Dunn following an argument over loud music outside a Jacksonville convenience store. The reaction to Davis's death didn't reach the fever pitch of Trayvon Martin's case because local police quickly charged Dunn with murder.

State Rep. Tony Cornish and former state Sen. Gretchen Hoffman proposed "shoot-first" legislation last year that was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton
State Rep. Tony Cornish and former state Sen. Gretchen Hoffman proposed "shoot-first" legislation last year that was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton

Since it was born in 2005, Stand Your Ground has spread like wildfire. Seven years later, more than half of the states in the union have adopted some version of it — not by organic political means, but after they were pushed as "model legislation" by the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-sponsored neo-conservative consortium of lawmakers.

According to Mother Jones magazine, the year after Florida adopted Stand Your Ground, the stepchild of England's castle doctrine spread to 12 other states across the Deep South as well as Kansas, Michigan, and Indiana.

In Miami that year, a man shot 14 bullets at a car full of gang members and avoided prosecution by citing the law. In 2007, justifiable homicides more than tripled in Florida, while four more states adopted "Stand Your Ground."

In 2008, a 15-year-old boy in Tallahassee died after getting caught in a shoot-out between rival gangs — two of the gang members successfully hid behind "Stand Your Ground."

Meanwhile, Ohio and West Virginia joined the list of states to adopt the statute. Four months after the law took effect in Montana in 2009, a Walmart employee in Billings was released from custody after claiming he shot a co-worker in the face in self-defense.


Has the introduction of Stand Your Ground laws by state legislatures emboldened gun owners to shoot and kill without fear of prosecutorial reprisal? Has Stand Your Ground, as Florida state Sen. Steve Geller warned, encouraged people to think that "you ought to be able to kill people that are walking toward you on the street because of this subjective belief that you're worried that they may get in a fight with you?"

It apparently did for Joe Horn.

In the Houston suburb of Pasadena on November 14, 2007 — two months after Texas passed Stand Your Ground — the 61-year-old retiree saw two burglars breaking into the house next door. He called 911, but also grabbed his shotgun.

Horn told the operator, "I've got a shotgun; do you want me to stop them?"

The Pasadena emergency operator responded: "Nope. Don't do that. Ain't no property worth shooting somebody over, okay?"

A back-and-forth ensued, and the operator told Horn that officers would arrive soon.

"Okay," Horn countered. "But I have a right to protect myself too, sir," adding, "The laws have been changed in this country since September the first, and you know it."

"You're going to get yourself shot," countered the operator.

To which Horn replied: "You want to make a bet? I'm going to kill them."

When the authorities arrived, they found Hernando Torres and David Ortiz dead from bullet wounds fired from behind them. Eight months later, a Harris County grand jury declined to indict Horn on any criminal charges.

"Stand Your Ground serves to enable paranoid crazies to commit murder without fear of any consequences," said Elliot Fineman, CEO of the National Gun Victims Action Council. "The most cursory look into basic psychology shows the certain potential of Stand Your Ground for stimulating aggression, and all for the fantasy of self-protection by way of a carried gun in public."

Examples abound of Stand Your Ground promoting vigilantism around the country in 2012. Last March in Wisconsin, Bo Morrison was shot and killed by a homeowner who found the unarmed 20-year-old on his porch early one morning. Morrison had tried to evade police responding to a noise complaint at a neighboring underage drinking party. The homeowner was not charged by the local district attorney.

Wisconsin doesn't officially have Stand Your Ground, but Gov. Scott Walker signed an "intruders bill" in 2011 that presumes somebody who uses deadly force against a trespasser in their home, business, or vehicle acted reasonably, whether or not the intruder was armed.

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34 comments
blacksheep
blacksheep

Hopefully his lawyer will get the statements he made to police inadmissible and he will get a jury who hasn't heard what he said under duress . It seems the poor old guy had PTSS after being a crime victim so many times. It's too bad the criminals won't get a chance to turn their lives around.

thiagodaluz7
thiagodaluz7

If any law facilitates this kind of behavior it is NOT beneficial to the United States. How can anyone in their right mind read this and find another side to debate!? I know more than one <a href="http://www.workcompmn.com/wrongful-death-claims/">Minneapolis wrongful death attorney</a> that'd agree, though that might be their jobs. Think about it though. Did an ass-kicking need to be administered? Yes. But this freak EXECUTED two children! I support citizens' rights to bear arms, but this was murder, not defense.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Remember -- Cowards Shoot First.


mpls1234
mpls1234

personally, i feel it is my duty to protect myself and my family. whether at home or in public. i am a firm believer that an armed society is a peaceful society. see Harvard study on gun control, make your own judgments http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf 

now, before that is misconstrued to mean that i want everyone walking around with guns - i do believe there should be restrictions in place. obviously criminals should not be allowed to purchase/own weapons. there should be considerations for mental health issues, though this is a touchy subject. who decides? who decides when someone is "okay" to purchase or own? the background check system should be updated so that if someone has a permit to purchase or carry and they are added to the list due to prosecution/verdict the weapons may be transferred to a legal party or confiscated. just to name a few.

as for restrictions on weapons. aside from restrictions on full automatic weapons, which we already have in this country, i believe that legal law abiding citizens should have access to any weapon. if the cops need AR15's to address a threat, so do citizens. if the cops need high capacity magazines to address a threat, so do citizens. i do think that for carry permits there should be more training required in self defense tactics.

if i come across a situation where more than one threat presents itself and i'm forced into a self defense situation where i cannot retreat, or am in my home (and by being in my home am fully retreated) i do not want to be limited by the fire power, or capacity of my magazines to eliminate the threat. if my life came up to a magazine change because 7 rounds was not enough?

castle doctrine, fully support it. what Mr. Smith did, murder. the Martin/Zimmerman case in FL - if the media would have waiting for the facts to pass judgement.. i will wait to let the courts decide. but i'm leaning towards self defense. 

xtc1357
xtc1357

Hey shill nice try knowing what the criminals intent was when they broke into the house , next time stick to the facts it blows your credibility .

fmkinder
fmkinder

Mr. Wheeler.   I am a retired NYPD cop and a Vietnam combat vet.  I enjoyed your story, but you have skewed some facts.  A home owner who is in his home, is not obligated to RETREAT.  Outside the home he is.   I have CC permit.   Perhaps, you do not.   That is why you would retreat.  I on the other hand, would aim center mass and squeeze the trigger until the threat is removed.  I can only guess that you do not have a weapon in your home.  Thus, the reason for you to retreat.  I do  not condone what Mr. Smith did.  In essence it was murder.  However, all people that own guns are not CRAZIES.  Some are and the question should be....how did they acquire the weapons in the first place.  Law abiding citizens do not randomly execute people.   Only non compas mentas people do.  I am a staunch defender of the 2nd amendment....I wonder if you are?   Appreciate your time.....Respectfully FMKinder....

davisherb71
davisherb71

Breaking into peoples homes may very well get you killed, law or no law. I oppose the stand your ground laws and think that a person previously terrorized by a recent break-in is unlikely to be convicted of murder even if he does a kill shot to end the ordeal.

I live in the MN bible belt and most subscribe to "Thou shalt not kill" and I sure wouldn't be surprised if another burglar got shot by a homeowner who is terrorized by someone entering their home. If they broke into his barn or shed he'd be obviously wrong, breaking into his home while he is home is another matter.

Not an NRA supporter either!

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

More American Gun MADNESS!

Remember -- Cowards Shoot First.

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

its pretty clear this guy enjoyed himself while KILLING kids

Twin Cities Gun Owners & Carry Forum
Twin Cities Gun Owners & Carry Forum

1. One cannot "rob" a home. 2. Why not focus on the criminal history of the two criminals who, if not for failures in our criminal justice system to properly charge, prosecute and sentence the two for previous crimes, would likely be alive today...

Chris Pederson
Chris Pederson

^^ tell that to the innocent people being murdered and/or wounded by people defending their 'natural right to self-preservation'.. and I'm pretty sure the gun industry has their hand in crafting these laws. how convenient.

swmnguy
swmnguy topcommenter

I've never heard of anyone in Minnesota being prosecuted for what appeared to be legitimate self-defense.  I've lived in Minneapolis for 25 years and never been in a situation where a gun would have helped. Every pro-"Stand Your Ground" and pro-gun argument I've ever heard relies on lurid hypotheticals and ultimately John Lott's fictitious "study," the results of which he can't produce.

The attempts of the far-right to exploit fear, much of it racially-based, for political gain and the financial gain of favored industries is shameful.  Crime is going down and has been for over a decade.  The two best ways to protect oneself are to not be involved in the retail street drugs trade, and to not be involved in an abusive relationship.  It's true that having a swimming pool is more dangerous than owning a gun, but at least a swimming pool has a non-violent purpose.

These laws don't solve any problem that needs to be solved.

CinBlueland
CinBlueland topcommenter

Wow. Surprised actually this wasn't written by Aaron R and poster MB.

You should wait for the police to arrive to write a report, you and your loved ones may be dead or injured but defending yourself with a firearm is bad.

Monica Bertrand
Monica Bertrand

The law does not give people license to kill. The law codifies the natural right to self-preservation. City Pages... don't you know you put yourself in the category of being just another headline rag when you editorialize as such?

JonReremy
JonReremy

Way to take an important issue and turn it into trashy journalism with this cover photo, CP. Keep up the good work.

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

@Twin Cities Gun Owners & Carry Forum in what sense ? are you arguing semantics of all things?  can i burglarize a home? does that work?

The criminal justice system is broken and in large part to orginizations like yours, why do we care about court and judges and shit  - we're talking about to teens doing what teens do- causing trouble - they would be alive today if this old fuck had any brains and if he wasnt really into pink mist!

xtc1357
xtc1357

@Chris Pederson  have you ever had to defend a love one ????? I have and I would do what ever it takes and on another occasion I could not and they were murdered 2 blocks from police station with a knife. The gun  issue is a red herring , and since when do innocent people break into a house with a owner present ? Blaming the gun industry is typical for liberal shills who are white and privileged. Ask a minority how in their neighborhoods they live and feel about crime and criminals maybe you would get a dose of reality and perspective !!

_Joe_
_Joe_

@swmnguy Congratulations on your 25 year run.  I hope it continues for you and that I am as lucky.  However, I'm glad to know that I have access to a firearm to defend myself and my family should we find ourselves among the unlucky someday.  

xtc1357
xtc1357

@CinBlueland you hit it on the nail criminals don't give a dam if you have time to call the police .

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

@_Joe_  i don't really care to explain myself, some things are just obvious man.

one explanation would be that he got a HUGE rush from his final killshots, therefore he enjoyed himself.


-enjoy

_Joe_
_Joe_

@digitalprotocol So if a teen attackes your daughter, are you going to claim that "teens will be teens?"    Screw that.  Hold them accountable.  If you break into someone's house when you know you shouldn't be there, you should have a reasonable expectation of getting shot. 

If this guy had dropped them both with the first shot, he would be a free man today.

swmnguy
swmnguy topcommenter

@_Joe_  Mind you, I'm not opposed to gun ownership.  It simply doesn't make sense for me.  I am opposed to the current vogue for "Castle Doctrine" and "Stand Your Ground" laws.

_Joe_
_Joe_

@digitalprotocol Fair enough.  What's seems pretty clear to me is that the guy went way beyond what anyone could consider reasonable defense of his home and person.  I was just wondering if there were more facts available elsewhere that I was not aware of.

digitalprotocol
digitalprotocol topcommenter

@_Joe_  if someone broke into my home, and i had a gun, i would ID the intruder well before popping em - So as not to shoot my "granddaughter"

_Joe_
_Joe_

@xtc1357 Correct.  However, MN law is extremely vague and subject to a lot of interpretation.  It would be nice if it were better defined.

_Joe_
_Joe_

@swmnguy BTW, Thank you for engaging in civil discussion.  There's been a distinct lack of that around here lately

_Joe_
_Joe_

@swmnguy Understood.  I supported the previously proposed legislation because it provided much more clarity than our current laws and legal precedent.  Though it probably had room for improvement, I was sorry to see it get vetoed.  I would just like to see something defined.  Granted, I'm not going to be worrying about what my rights are if I feel genuinely threatened in my home.  I'm going to act until I feel I am no longer threatened and let the courts figure it out later if they have to. 

That said, I think we've got way more important issues to deal with on a federal level at this time and I support most of the White House's recent suggestions.  Especially in terms of making sure that people get mental health treatment when they need it, and expanding the information available for ATF background checks.  I also support waiting periods for purchase and that private sales be facilitated by an FFL dealer that can do a background check and hold the firearm for the duration of the waiting period.

The only thing I really don't think will help is banning a specific type of firearm or magazine capacity.  At best it seems that that provision would have the least impact if it has any at all.

 
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