Florida is one of “at least 23 states” to have on the books a “shoot first” law that is designed to protect people against perceived threats – such as muggings and possible burglaries. In the five years since Florida passed the law “justifiable homicides” have more than tripled in that state and even though the law has come under close scrutiny of late, its defenders claim that it is a sound law and “that we should err on the side of those who fear they are facing a perceived threat.” How interesting! And how twisted in a country living in a supposedly enlightened age. Might we not rather want to err on the side of caution and preservation of human life? But this is Florida which is giving Texas a run for its money as the state any sensible person would most want to avoid.
Of great interest lately is the wanton killing of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida which certainly had racial overtones, since the young boy was black and had the audacity to be walking near a gated community. But let’s also consider an earlier case involving Jason Rosenbloom who in 2006 confronted his neighbor over the number of trash bags he had left on the corner — and was shot in the chest and hip for his troubles. In both cases there is a problem with the notion of “perceived” threat. The former policeman who shot Jason has no regrets and says his neighbor got what he deserved. The neighborhood watch volunteer who was cruising in his SUV and shot the young black boy he thought looked suspicious will almost certainly receive no punishment — in Florida at any rate. Florida law protects them both. Neither shooter could have possibly perceived a threat in the angry behavior of an unarmed and physically smaller man, who never came closer than 10 feet to his neighbor’s door, or an unarmed boy walking with a bag of groceries under his arm. But apparently the one pulling the trigger is the one who decides what is threatening behavior. And there’s the rub. What we have here is a step back in time into the lawless Wild West, except that here there is law and it explicitly protects those who shoot first.
The law reads as follows: “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity … has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
One would think that a group of supposedly intelligent legislators would have enough sense not to write such a vague phrase as “reasonably believes” into law. It does make shooting another person a matter of perception on the part of the shooter. It’s a judgment call. And perception, as we know, varies from person to person. But, then, perhaps we are wrong to assume that the legislators are intelligent. Perhaps.
I have spoken about the second amendment before and noted that the right to bear arms is tied inextricably with the absence of a standing army. That’s the way the Founders saw the relationship. With no standing army the country needs a militia and the militia needs to be armed. But those who defend people’s right to shoot first and ask questions later are loud in proclaiming their rights under the second amendment, which they probably never read. I stand by my earlier claim: those who shout loudest about the “right to bear arms” should also insist that the military be disbanded. It’s in the spirit of the amendment.
James Madison naively thought the best and brightest would rise to the top of government like cream in milk and become wise legislators. He was clearly wrong. He and the other Founders brought together the notion of bearing arms with the lack of a standing army. In our wisdom we have managed to tear those notions apart. Could the Founders have possibly overestimated the intelligence of the voting public and, especially, its representatives?