What Does ‘Stand Your Ground’ Really Mean?


              Several years ago, I spent some time with Eric Adams, who then was Borough President of Brooklyn at the time. While Eric was a cop in New York City, he finished college, did law school, and then went into politics, ending up as Mayor of New York. I asked Eric how; policing had changed from what it was like when he first went on the job, and he immediately said, “Today, nobody backs down!”

              I began thinking about Eric’s comment because the whole issue of backing down or not backing down has become a very big deal in the gun debate, namely, what we think and say about Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws.

              The United States is the only country in the entire world which gives statutory protection to someone who refuses to first back off when faced with a threat. These SYG laws are an outgrowth of laws known as ‘Castle Doctrine’ which allow individuals to protect themselves with deadly force if the threat occurs inside their home, but SYG also can be used as a defense against violence which occurs in the street.

              The first SYG law was passed by Florida in 2005, and SYG laws now exist in 27 other states. The NRA did heavy lobbying in the Gunshine State before and during the law’s initial passage, and Gun-nut Nation continues to promote SYG because the law also lends itself to be a legal defense for carrying and using a gun.

              Probably the clearest definition of what SYG means and how it is used can be found in a statement by the National Conference of State Legislatures and can be accessed here. The statement notes that Florida took the concept of ‘Castle Doctrine’ and expanded it to cover armed response to a threat by anyone who was in a lawful location, whether this location was inside their home or not. The same groups which have promoted SYG laws have also promoted the elimination of gun-free zones.

              In its exhaustive study of gun research, RAND found that SYG laws may increase violent crime, but do not appear to have any positive or negative affect on defensive gun use, which is what Gun-nut Nation has been touting as the positive impact of SYG. The RAND group also could not find any connection between SYG laws and mass shootings or gun suicides.

              In a very detailed study (Stand Your Ground, A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense), Caroline Light argues that this legal sanction for armed, self-defense reflected a society which was first organized and controlled by white, property-owning males who held a monopoly on using lethal violence and is still very much the way our legal system addresses this issue today.

              To deny that today’s cultural ‘war’ and the woke debates are contemporary manifestations of socio-cultural attitudes reflecting challenges to this long-standing tradition of armed supremacy by white males would be to deny reality and ignore what is happening today. Because of nothing else, the MAGA attitudes that were shouted all over the place during the January 6th riot are manifestations of the idea that when attacked, you can and should stay in place.

              All that being said and accepted, I have decided to write a book on SYG, which will approach the issue from a very different perspective which needs to be acknowledged and understood.

              I believe that legal doctrines to the contrary, SYG behavior has its origins not in the supremacy of armed, white males, but rather as a way that blacks responded first to slavery and then post-slavery racism in the United States.

              The slave system, particularly in the lower South where slavery was the laboring mechanism which engendered the plantation economy, rested on the application of corporal punishment as the chief incentive for getting the work done, particularly because plantation products (tobacco, cotton) had brief periods when the crops had to be harvested and brought in.

              The numerous testimonies of slave life collected by the WPA and housed at the Library of Congress, contain endless references to how slaves would find ways to avoid suffering physical assaults by overseers in the fields, as well as how newly-freed, former slaves figured out how to resist the physical threats and actions of the Klan.

              In both situations, standing in place was often the way that blacks chose to protect themselves from threats and assaults by whites, a tradition which then became emblematic of the basic strategy developed by the civil rights movement and promoted by D. Martin Luther King.

              After all, when Rosa Parks wouldn’t go to the back of the bus in Montgomery, AL in 1955, wasn’t she standing her ground, even if she was sitting down?

              If the United States is the only country whose legal system embodies a Stand Your Ground defense, at least we should appreciate how and why this tradition came to be. Because even if SYG has become a short-hand method for justifying the alt-right drift of the GOP, its origins happen to embody some of the most important and noble behavior of the black race, behavior which deserves its rightful place in the history of the United States.

              And as Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter once observed, ‘history also has its place.’

Do You Need a Self-Defense Gun?


              Sometime in the next month, I am going to announce the launch of a new organization called SAFE, which stands for Security and Firearms Education. It will be an organization that will produce and disseminate informational resources to help individuals understand the laws, context, and proficiency training required to use a gun effectively and safely for armed, self-defense.

              You might wonder how come someone who has been an outspoken advocate of gun control for the last decade would be willing to switch sides, so to speak, and now start promoting the ownership and use of self-defense guns? That’s a good question, and here’s my response.

              I published my first comments about gun violence in May 2013. Since that time, more than 150,000 Americans have been shot to death by other Americans, and probably another 750,000 or more Americans have been shot but survived their wounds. In other words, the number of victims who were injured or killed by someone else using a gun is now approaching one million over the ten years since I started writing about guns.

              What has been the response of the advocates and researchers who are shocked and saddened by this state of affairs? The answer to this uniquely American type of behavior is to mandate more gun-control regulations against legal gun owners whose legal status is based on the belief that they can be trusted not to commit violent behavior with their guns.

              Are there times that legal gun owners do things with their guns that they shouldn’t do with their guns? Of course. Since when have human beings ever been error-free?

              But the last time I looked at the Violence Policy Center’s report on concealed killers, the number of fatal assaults by private citizens who were legally allowed to carry a concealed weapon averages about 150 fatal assaults per year, a number which also includes some suicides, by the way. Want to compare that number to the 20,000 or so gun homicides committed each year, almost all of which are the work of individuals who cannot legally own guns?

              Don’t get me wrong. I don’t buy the argument that if everyone were walking around with a gun, that violent crime would go down. By the same token, I don’t buy the argument that individuals walking around with guns are committing all those fatal and non-fatal gun assaults.

              Back in June, when the Supreme Court struck down New York’s law which requires that concealed-carry applicants show valid cause for needing to walk around with a gun, the various GVP groups all knew ‘for a fact’ that New York was heading for an Armageddon of gun violence, no matter what.

              I am still waiting for the first piece of evidence-based research which definitively shows a connection between the issuance of concealed-carry licenses and a substantive, verifiable increase in violent crime. Sorry, but just finding a coincidence between when a law is changed and how people behave isn’t cause and effect.

              I have sold thousands of guns to people who walked into my gun shop and said they wanted to buy a gun for armed, self-defense. Most of these customers were kids who had been playing video shooting games as they grew up and now were old enough to have the real thing.

              At some point I sent emails and asked several hundred of these customers how often they were walking around with their self-defense gun. Less than 10 percent of the people who responded to my email said they were carrying their gun on a regular basis – the rest were walking around with a concealed weapon occasionally or not at all.

              Here’s what happens when you begin carrying a self-defense gun. You discover that there are places you can’t bring the gun, like shopping malls or restaurants that serve booze. You also discover that the gun is heavy, it’s bulky, so you won’t carry it during the warm months because it looks kind of stupid to be wearing an overcoat at the beach.

              For all the complaints from the gun-control folks about how issuing concealed-carry licenses increases risk, has there ever been one study which seeks to figure out how many of those newly licensed gunslingers are actually walking around with their cherished guns? Nope, not one.

              Why do most people buy Apple phones or droids? Not because they actually need to use the device, but because everyone else has one and looking at some video or sending a text is fun.

              Think it’s any different with people who buy self-defense guns? It’s not.

              But an iPhone 13 is one thing, a Glock is something else. So, to help those new owners understand the lethality and risk of the self-defense gun they just bought, I will shortly be putting up a website which tells them what they need to consider if they want to engage in armed, self-defense.

The website will have three content pages, one which explains the legal issues surrounding armed, self-defense, along with another page telling owners of self-defense guns how to determine whether the guy coming towards them is really a threat, and another page describing a 10-minute, daily exercise to develop and maintain necessary muscle memory which doesn’t require using a gun.

I may also add a page specifically geared towards women who want to defend themselves or others with a gun.

Everyone knows that guns represent a risk. If their lethality didn’t create risk nobody would consider using them for self-defense. But you’re not going to convince anyone to restrain from buying or using a self-defense gun by publishing some data-laden article in a public health journal which shows some kind of ‘correlation’ between access to guns and 100,000+ fatal and non-fatal gun assaults every year.

Every time I turn on my car’s engine and back out of the driveway, I’m taking a risk. Every time I gobble down a handful of those Lay’s potato chips, I’m taking a risk.     Every time I plunk down some dough to buy shares in the latest ‘hot’ social media company, I’m taking a risk.

How come we are so benign about certain risks and so hostile to other risks? How many Americans still believe that getting vaccinated against Covid-19 guarantees that, sooner or later, you’ll come down with the disease?

If nothing else, my new website is an attempt to inject a little bit of reality into the gun debate.

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