Stand Your Ground Law Under Fire, Again

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The Florida State law commonly referred to as Stand Your Ground has been increasingly controversial over the years, especially since 2012. George Zimmerman was accused of having fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin that year, sparking an intense reaction from the Black community. The same year, Michael Dunn was accused of killing Jordan Davis of the same age in like manner at a gas station. Dunn was convicted of murder, but Zimmerman was acquitted.

Curtis Reeves, a retired police captain, has now been accused of fatally shooting Chad Oulson in a movie theater after Oulson threw popcorn at the Reeves in response to the Reeves telling him to put his cell phone away in 2014. Curtis’s wife, Vivian, testifies, “It happened very quickly, and [Oulson’s] whole upper body just came forward, and I thought that he was coming over.” Reeves’s defense attorney has invoked the Stand Your Ground law as his argument in favor of Reeves’s acquittal. He also argues that the theater’s camera shows that Oulson attacked Reeves.

Nicole Oulson, Chad’s now-widow, counters with the testimony that Chad was texting their babysitter who was supervising their very young daughter so they could go to the movies. She describes Oulson’s exchange with Reeves prior to the shot as merely “a couple of words—no threats, no harm, no nothing.”

Republican lawmaker, Dennis Bradley, co-authored Stand Your Ground with other lawmakers and the aid of NRA President Marion Hammer, and has gone on record stating – in relation to the Oulson shooting – that the legislation was originally passed in the aftermath of consecutive hurricanes. During this period, he references a statistically measurable increase in crime rates that provided the incentive for lawmakers on both sides of the isle to support the bill.

“We had a lot of properties that were open and people living in FEMA trailers,” Braxley explains. He recalls that Stand Your Ground wasn’t controversial legislation at that time due to Floridians nigh-unanimous consensus that they needed to be able to defend themselves against the higher probability of criminal action. “We had bipartisan support. [The vote was] unanimous in the Florida senate. Only twenty people in the Florida house opposed.”

Arthenia Joyner, one of the Democratic legislators who opposed Braxley’s bill in 2005, paints the picture differently, claiming that controversy was already in full effect when the bill was being signed. She describes it as “a big debate in 2005” that still gives her the same “fears that I had back in 2005.” The upheaval in Black communities over the shootings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis in 2012 represented a reaction to these same fears instilled in minorities ever since the law originally went into effect in 2005 under Governor Jeb Bush. Joyner goes on to sum up these concerns in a way that Blacks also expressed when she says, “It hurts the chances for minorities to receive justice.”

Stand Your Ground permits residents to use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” they are being threatened or attacked; the subjectivity of which sparks a great deal of controversy because opposition argues this can be used to excuse the killing of nearly anyone under vague circumstances. The purpose of the law, though, is to ensure that citizens are not obligated to retreat in the event that a legitimate threat presents itself.