Panel At U.S. Senate Hearing Appears Against Stand Your Ground Laws

Last week, for the first time, the federal government held a hearing on stand your ground laws in America, with testimony that was riveting and sometimes emotional, as most of those on a nine-member panel testified against the laws.

US Senate stand your ground hearing on October 29, 2013
US Senate stand your ground hearing on October 29, 2013

The two hour hearing, entitled “Stand Your Ground Laws: Civil Rights and Public Safety Implications of the Expanded Use of Deadly Force”, by the Senate Judiciary Committee‘s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, was significant in itself, since each state in the union has it’s own laws on self defense, “shoot-first” and deadly force.

In every state that has a “stand your ground”-type provision, the law is similar, and universally includes a “no duty to retreat” imposed by these new laws, but vary in use of deadly force.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) at stand your ground hearing October 29, 2013
Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois)

Committee Chairman Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) appeared to favor some type of federal legislation, although federal authority cannot dictate state laws on self-defense.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) emphasized this, even implicating there may be a “political agenda” behind the hearing. His cohort, Texas State Representative Louis Gourmet (R) echoed the sentiment that legislation on the laws must be left with the states.

But Durbin acknowledged the NRA-ALEC connection to stand your ground laws, and cited past or recent studies and reports which he said show that stand your ground law allowed “shooters to walk free in shocking situations. Durbin said the laws “emboldened those who carry guns to initiate confrontations which have ended up killing unarmed children, increase racial disparity,” and said, “it’s clear these laws often go too far in encouraging confrontations that escalate into deadly violence.”

Senator Ted Cruz at stand your ground hearing October 29, 2013
Senator Ted Cruz

Cruz, of course, defended stand your ground, expounding the benefits of the second amendment. He claims that doing away with the laws would take away the right to defend yourself on a public street.

Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) used the Trayvon Martin shooting as an example of racial profiling and said George Zimmerman was exonerated due to the laws, calling the laws unjust and biased.

Illinois State Representative Luis Guitterez (D) blamed the gun lobby on spreading an agenda of shoot first. and said he was shocked by the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the fact that no one was immediately arrested, and that there was no conviction.

Sybrina Fulton testifies at Senate stand your ground hearing
Sybrina Fulton, seated next to Prof. Ron Sullivan (r), testifies at Senate stand your ground hearing

Sybrina Fulton spoke about her son Trayvon, and said it is important that stand your ground is amended, saying “this law does not work” and that law enforcement and legal authorities should be contacted to do something about the laws.

Professor Ron Sullivan, Jr., Director of Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Institute explained a correlation between stand your ground and violence, and spoke out against racial profiling and policing by citizens.

David Labahn, President of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, replaced William Meggs on the panel, and offered recommendations for reforms He said stand your ground provides “safe harbor” for criminals, and ties up the legal system with cases.

Ilya Shapiro, of CATO Institute, another proponent of the laws, defended stand your ground, while an opponent of the laws, John Lott, attempted to explain effects of racial disparities and gun laws on the outcome of incidents and statistics.

Lucia Mcbath testifies at US Senate hearing on stand your ground
Lucia Mcbath testifies at US Senate hearing on stand your ground

Yet it was Lucia Mcbath who gave the most riveting, emotional testimony, recounting the November incident last year which took the life of her son Jordan Davis. Mcbath, now the national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action, said she faces “the very real possibility that her son’s killer will walk free.”

Mcbath spoke of how the laws empower people like Michael Dunn – the man accused of gunning down her son – who she said had “no ground to stand”,  and said the law “declares open season on anyone we don’t trust for reasons we don’t even understand…in essence it allows any armed citizen to self-deputize themselves and establish their own definition of law and order…even the wild west had more stringent laws than what we have now.”

She appeared to break down, her voice cracking, as she spoke of how she never got to take Davis’ prom picture or see him graduate from high school and her memories of him. Lawmakers did not call on neither of the mothers for questioning.


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3 thoughts on “Panel At U.S. Senate Hearing Appears Against Stand Your Ground Laws

  1. Sure anyone has a right to defend themselves. BUT – that is NOT what stand your ground laws are about. Stand your ground laws are basically a second bite at the apple, an attempt to skirt around the legal notions of objective “reasonableness” to use deadly force in a situation. An irrational fear, stemming from racism, a fear based on a white persons fear of anyone who is non-white, had been well established in law as “unreasonable”. That is, even if a person had a real, genuine fear, that is legally besides the point. The standard does not lie in what the person with the fear felt, but rather in how a “reasonable” person would view the situation. Stand your ground laws are attempts to institutionally protect unreasonable fear, which at heart are attempts to protect and validate racism, by saying the “real” fear of a white person, even if not reasonable, is a valid excuse to shoot a minority person.

    Liked by 1 person

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