Does Stand Your Ground Work? Sure Does If You Want To Shoot Someone.

Caroline Light’s provocative and original book, Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair With Lethal Self Defense, is making its official debut next week and you can pick up a copy at (where else?) Amazon but I’m sure it will be at your independent bookseller as well.  Its appearance, incidentally, will no doubt coincide with the beginning of another attempt by Gun-nut Nation to push a bill through Congress that will let anyone with a concealed-carry license carry his gun through all 50 states.

light_standyourground_2             The idea that a gun license should be no different than a driver’s license has been a cherished gun-nut dream since then-Senator Larry Craig came out of his men’s room stall to speak in favor of a national, concealed-carry bill on the Senate floor. The bill is routinely filed every two years, it has always been just as routinely ignored, but guess who’s sitting in his office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue just waiting to sign such a bill into law?  And what better way to rev up his sturm und drang base and take their minds off the fact that he can’t really get anything done than to announce that they can now run around anywhere in the United States carrying their guns?

And this is what concealed-carry is really all about, namely, playing out a fantasy that I can protect myself from all those street thugs and bandidos because I’m carrying a gun. The fact that most of the folks who have concealed-carry licenses happen to live in places with little or no violent crime is entirely beside the point.  I really loved it when Trump-o said he could stand on the 5th Avenue sidewalk, shoot someone down and his supporters would still give him their votes. If he did, it would be the first time that a violent crime was committed on 5th Avenue since I don’t know when. But that didn’t stop Trump from bragging about how he allegedly walks around carrying a gun.

Caroline Light’s book isn’t about concealed-carry per se, it’s really a study of a peculiarly American legal phenomenon known as Stand Your Ground (SYG.) Because other Western countries may make it more difficult to get a concealed-carry license, but they are issued if you can show cause.  On the other hand, SYG laws are a peculiarly American phenomenon, and Professor Light does a first-rate job of explaining how and why our ‘love affair’ with lethal, self-defense departs so dramatically from Common Law traditions which, in England and other British colonial zones, don’t support the SYG legal position at all.

When the Supreme Court gave Americans a Constitutional protection in 2008 to keep handguns in the home for self-defense, the majority based its reasoning on a rather arbitrary analysis of the phrase ‘keep and bear arms.’ But according to Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion, it also reflected an American ‘tradition’ of using guns, particularly handguns, for personal defense. What Light shows is that from the very beginnings of the country, the earliest legal cases which codified SYG involved physical disputes that were settled with a gun. I’m not sure that we yet fully understand exactly how and why guns proliferated in the United States, but the connection between gun ownership and the legal sanction of SYG is made very clear in this book.

The problem we have today, however, is that with so many guns floating around, what to the shooter may be a defensive act could be an offensive act to the person who gets shot.  Recently a 60-year old St. Louis man was found not guilty of assault after he shot and killed a 13-year old kid at a distance of 70 feet.  The teenager was running away after breaking into the man’s car, but under Missouri law, since the man felt ‘threatened,’ he had the right to yank out his gun. What kind of country do we live in where something like this can occur?  Some answers to that question are provided in Caroline Light’s new and important book.



4 thoughts on “Does Stand Your Ground Work? Sure Does If You Want To Shoot Someone.

  1. Somewhat amazed by the St.Louis verdict.

    In 2004 here in Albuquerque, Elton John Richard, a decorated U.S. Marine veteran and former federal security guard, chased a a man he saw trying to break into his car for a quarter mile before fatally shooting him during a confrontation. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Its one of the cases the CHL instructors use in teaching good vs. bad shoots.

    According to Collins and Collins, attorneys in Albuquerque, SYG is by court interpretation rather than written law, i.e., “New Mexico General Jury Instruction on Self-Defense UJI 14-5190 states that “A person who is threatened with an attack need not retreat. In the exercise of his right of self defense, he may stand his ground and defend himself..Of course, the issue will be whether a jury believes the force was reasonable and neccesary.”

  2. “When the Supreme Court gave Americans a Constitutional protection in 2008 to keep handguns in the home for self-defense, the majority based its reasoning on a rather arbitrary analysis of the phrase ‘keep and bear arms.’ ”

    As Adam Winkler explains in his book ‘Gunfight’, it was based on a standard interpretation of the 14th Amendment. After the American Civil War, the 14th Amendment was intended to guarantee each ex-slave their guns. The authors of this amendment would, I think, be surprised about it is being used now.

  3. Whenever I read something in the News that does not make sense, I assume that the reporting was mostly wrong. It is easy for me to assume this, because every story I knew a lot about that got picked up by the media invariably got a lot wrong. DAs can be put into difficult situations when the media runs with a narrative that is in conflict with the facts that they have in front of them. If the media version paints them as un-caring for the designated “victim” they usually end up losing their jobs. But if they bring a case forward that they know is hopelessly flawed from the start, they are permanently discredited(if not dis-barred – hello Mike Nifong) unless they have massive political protection from higher ups. The DA in the Michael Brown case did the only thing he could have to keep his job — showed everything he had to the Grand Jury, who agreed against prosecution of the cop. He did not win the media war – BLM did, but he got to keep his job.

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