Stand Your Ground Redux

I constantly try to warn all gun owners that no matter how many wins we rack up, our rights will always be under attack by our opponents. And it isn’t just the federal and state legislatures that we need to watch. A decision just last week by a Florida judge regarding the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law is a perfect example.

Surprisingly, the most accurate reporting on the decision was an opinion piece that appeared in (are you sitting down?) the normally anti-2nd Amendment Washington Post! For a comprehensive discussion of the judge’s decision, how it came to be and what it does (and does not) mean, I encourage you to check it out here.

The larger concerns facing those of us who carry is that, increasingly, the courts have gotten into the business of what is often called “legislating from the bench” — in other words, usurping what is the responsibility of the elected legislators, whether in the U.S. Congress or state legislative bodies. Many who understand the Constitution and the separation of powers refer to such judges as “judicial activists.” I prefer the more pejorative (but, I would argue, more accurate) label, “judicial pirates.”

A bit of history is in order. In 2005, Florida passed the first comprehensive law regarding a potential victim’s options when under threat of harm. Commonly referred to as “Stand Your Ground” laws, such statutes basically eliminate the “duty to retreat” before using deadly force in public, not just in one’s home. Many other states have since followed suit.

Naturally, there were hysterical predictions of rampant mayhem voiced by the law’s opponents, including referring to Stand Your Ground statutes as “shoot first” laws. In spite of the fact that no such dire consequences resulted, the Florida law came under intense scrutiny after the media frenzy over the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin incident in 2012, when Zimmerman shot then 17-year old Trayvon Martin during a violent assault.

But Zimmerman’s eventual acquittal at trial had nothing to do with Stand Your Ground. Zimmerman’s legal team did not even make a claim for an immunity hearing under the law. However, since the instructions given to the jury borrowed some of the language from the SYG statute, opponents, aided by the press, seized on that fact to attack the law yet again.

Partly as a result of the nationwide media coverage of the Zimmerman trial (which continues, even today, falsely reporting it as a “Stand Your Ground case”), a number of legal battles surrounding Stand Your Ground laws have occurred since, both in Florida and elsewhere. And the courts are often involved.

This is not (or at least, shouldn’t be) a Democrat/Republican issue. The separation of powers that is fundamental to the Constitution exists for a reason — no one branch of government should have unchallenged, unaccountable power. In most instances, this works out at election time; legislators can be voted out of office. Presidents and governors, who represent the executive branches of government, can also be challenged at the ballot box and are typically term-limited.

The judicial branch is different. While many judges at the state level are elected, many often run unopposed, and, even if challenged, incumbents overwhelmingly get re-elected. But many judges, especially at the appellate court level, are appointed, and face no such accountability — and Supreme Court Justices serve essentially for life.

For those of us who cherish our rights, apathy is simply not an option.

Related: Demystifying Castle Doctrine & Stand Your Ground

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