Following George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, new battle lines are forming between the Obama administration and the National Rifle Association.
This week, Attorney General Eric Holder and the NRA traded statements on the merits of “stand your ground” laws, which have been adopted in some form in more than thirty states. The legal principle allows individuals to use reasonable force to defend themselves in a dangerous situation and removes the requirement to retreat.
“It’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict into our neighborhoods,” Mr. Holder told an NAACP convention Tuesday in Orlando, Fla. “These laws try to fix something that was never broken.” In the rest of his speech, the attorney general called on states to review their adoption of these laws, stating that they encourage “violent situations to escalate” rather than curb crime.
Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA, fired back the next day. “The attorney general fails to understand that self-defense is not a concept, it’s a fundamental human right,” he said in a statement. “To send a message that legitimate self-defense is to blame is unconscionable, and demonstrates once again that this administration will exploit tragedies to push their political agenda.”
Florida has been at the forefront of “stand your ground,” being one of the first states to adopt the law as well as the site for the Zimmerman trial. In 2005, Florida first expanded the “castle doctrine” (the principle that you do not need to retreat when in your home) to general circumstances, which was quickly replicated by other states. Mr. Zimmerman did not use a “stand your ground defense” during the trial. Yet after the verdict protesters camped out at GOP Gov. Rick Scott’s office, demanding that he call a special session to repeal the law. On Thursday night, he rejected their appeal. “I told [the protesters] that I agree with the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, which concurred with the law,” Mr. Scott said in a statement.
The efficacy of “stand your ground” is heavily disputed, but the rhetoric early—particularly from the Department of Justice—points to a conversation primarily driven by politics. In any case, no “stand your ground” state appears to be leaning toward repeal. And sustained opposition to such efforts, coupled with summer-recesses, make prospects even more unlikely.
July 19, 2013, 1:23 p.m. ET
By HARRY GRAVER
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