The current ginned-up controversy over “stand your ground” laws in Florida and elsewhere is actually a testament to the growing influence of that portion of the civil liberties movement that is focused on the Second Amendment.
The chief, but certainly not the sole, agent of that growth in effectiveness is the National Rifle Association, of which I have been a member since 1967, when I took the proceeds of my first military paycheck and sent in the requisite $100 that a life membership then cost. (It was a fourth of my monthly gross pay, so it was a substantial amount.)
I’ve never regretted it for a second. Our liberties dealing with the right to keep and bear arms (which are rooted in the intrinsic human right to self-defense) are scorned by other so-called “civil liberties” groups (yes, I mean you, ACLU), so we need a dedicated organization to defend them against their attackers.
We wouldn’t have recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that verified those rights exist, and apply nationwide, were not the NRA and others willing to bear the legal, moral and financial burdens of defending them. Such groups remain at the forefront of a double-barreled effort (sorry) to expand the reach of these liberties.
The first is to reach into those jurisdictions hostile to our rights to fight in court against the continued restrictions such communities and states (and bureaucracies at various levels) enact and try to enforce that are in violation of both the Court’s decisions and the application of those decisions to individual Americans.
Along that line, Second Amendment defenders are contesting the laws of New York and New Jersey, which are using local laws and court decisions to impinge on the rights of Americans to travel with secured firearms and ammunition, something federal law specifically permits.
Even trained military personnel have been charged and their weapons confiscated under these oppressive state policies and statutes, and new laws are being drafted in Congress to halt these abuses of our rights.
In other cases, anti-gun activists have tried to ban the use of lead in bullets via federal regulation, with the latest attempt turned back just this month. Such a ban would greatly increase the price of ammunition, making it difficult or impossible for hunters and target shooters to practice their preferred enthusiasms.
Other states have attempted to require that guns should be manufactured with the ability to “microstamp” bullets fired through them, to link a firearm with its expended rounds. This technology, which does not exist at present, would also be extremely expensive if it ever was developed, and raise the cost of new firearms far beyond the reach of most people, experts say.
Beyond opposing laws designed to harass ordinary gun owners and make criminals out of law-abiding people, gun-rights defenders also have aimed for decades at passing positive legislation that expands the reach of firearms’ rights, both with regard to sporting uses and with regard to their primary purpose, self-defense. (Americans use guns for defending themselves and their loved ones hundreds of thousands of times a year, if not more.)
Thus, gun clubs have been grandfathered into their locations and offered legal protection against neighbors (some of whom moved in knowing there was a gun club nearby) who complained of noise or traffic, or alleged that firearms’ discharges were hazards they deserved to be defended against, regardless of the adequacy of range safety measures.
More significantly, the right to bear arms outside of one’s residence has been strongly defended, resulting in all but one state (Illinois) allowing weapons to be carried outside the home. But the numbers and types of restrictions, including on “open carry” (with a weapon in plain sight) and concealed carry, vary widely. (The places with room for considerable improvement besides Illinois include Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey).
Guns rights defenders in both parties in Congress are working hard to get a law passed to treat concealed weapons permits like drivers’ licenses, in that each state that offered them would have to recognize those of other states, although individual state laws would apply to the circumstances of carry within each jurisdiction. The law is very popular, but will probably have to await the election of a new president to avoid a veto from the current one.
Four states — Alaska, Vermont, Arizona and Wyoming — require no license at all to carry a firearm, either openly or concealed, and Maine is one of many “shall-issue” states where guns may be carried openly and concealed carry permits may only be denied for reasons specifically laid out in law (and not at some official’s whim, as is the case in some of the places mentioned above).
So, felons, the certified mentally ill and spouse abusers may not carry weapons, but every other adult may, including carrying concealed as long as training and registration requirements are met.
We’ve all seen how foolish “No Guns Allowed” policies are, disarming law-abiding people while opening up schools and other public places to those who are willing to break the law because they deliberately intend to attack the defenseless.
The most notable recent addition to the positive side of the law regarding firearms possession and use are so-called “castle laws” and “stand-your-ground laws,” the latter much in the news because of the death of a teenager in Florida at the hands of an armed member of a neighborhood watch group.
Briefly, because many state laws and legal precedents had established that crime victims had what was called a “duty to retreat” when violence was threatened against them, people had to prove that they were essentially cornered and unable to escape before they could use force to defend their persons or property. Or, they had to flee their own homes if they were able.
Because this state of affairs was widely (and correctly) seen as unjust, privileging criminals and punishing victims, many states passed laws saying there was no duty to retreat if you were in your own place of residence. These were known as “castle laws” from “a man’s home is his castle.”
But that “duty” to run away was still being applied to victims threatened or attacked in public, even in places where those citizens had every legal right to be — parks, sidewalks, parking lots, yards, etc.
That was true even though, as long ago as 1895, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Beard v. U.S. that an innocent person under attack was “not obligated to retreat, but was entitled to stand his ground, and meet any attack on him with a deadly weapon…”
“Stand your ground laws” thus extended the right of self-defense to those public places, on the solid moral ground that criminals should not have the power to force law-abiding citizens to flee from locations where they were breaking no law and had every right to remain. Janet Napolitano, now the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, signed such a law when she was governor of Arizona.
So it seems odd that people would resist such laws, because there is no reason to make criminals a privileged group. That would be — well, criminal.
Of course, long before anyone, beyond the people directly involved, knows what really happened in the Florida case, anti-gun groups are blaming that state’s stand-your-ground law for the shooting of an innocent person.
Numerous legal experts have pointed out, however, that no matter what happened, the law is not at fault. If George Zimmerman, the admitted shooter, confronted Treyvon Martin, the teenager, after following him, he wasn’t standing his ground under the law’s definition.
And if, as he tells it, he had left off following Martin and was returning to his car when he was attacked and then defended himself, he was acting within his rights under the law.
Either way, the law isn’t the issue, and shouldn’t be criticized as if it were. Efforts to overturn such statutes should be seen as exactly what they are – efforts to turn public places back over to the control of the worst among us, and make everyone else give way to them. Or, more likely, become their victims once again.
We’ve had enough of that. The just-concluded NRA annual convention had more than 75,000 attendees, a record. Let’s show the crooks’ defenders (some of whom are crooks themselves) that most Americans will stand our ground on “stand your ground.”
Speaking of which, isn’t it time Maine had such a law?
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.