Standing Up Against âStand-Your-Groundâ Laws

If you think a justified street-corner shooting of an unarmed person couldn’t happen where you live, think again.

Some 24 states have so-called “stand-your-ground” legislation. Many are patterned after Florida’s controversial 2005 law that has come under intense scrutiny following the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., at the hands of neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman.

After weeks of national and international protests, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. But changing the law that will most likely be his defense will be a challenge in Florida as gun-rights groups line up to beat back any talk of repeal.

Although some argue that African-Americans who carry guns lawfully could benefit from such laws in a life-and-death encounter, most civil rights groups and progressive think tanks conclude that Blacks stand to be victims more than beneficiaries of any law that, according to many, “promotes shooting first and asking questions later.”

Right now in Florida, an independent state task force created by the governor is reviewing the state’s law. A recent report by the Tampa Bay Times reveals that self-defense killings have more than doubled since the stand-your-ground legislation went into effect. And rollbacks have been introduced by lawmakers in Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana, with talk of the same happening in Wisconsin and Texas. But with legislatures in most states fairly split down party lines, opponents of the law say that it will take intense public pressure for real movement to take place.

Stand-your-ground legistlation has been a big win for conservative lobbies such as the National Rifle Association (NRA). In fact, in recent weeks, the NRA has continued to push the laws, urging Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to sign a bill to bring the measure to his state and urging protests against the Judiciary Committee chairman of Iowa’s state senate for not holding hearings on the law.

But while the NRA is pushing such laws, the right-wing advocacy group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is essentially responsible for writing the measures, having provided the legislative template used by many states. With more than 2,000 state lawmakers as members, ALEC secured majority votes for these laws, even at the objection of many state prosecutors, who warned the laws would promote vigilantism. The council receives some funding from corporations, which partners executives with state lawmakers to draft bills.

Here are 3 things you can do right now to stand your ground against these laws:

1. Call the American Legislative Exchange Council, 202-466-3800, and the NRA, 800-672-3888, to voice your outrage.

2. If your state has a stand-your-ground law, contact your representative to ask that the law be repealed if it is enacted. If your state doesn’t presently have the law, find out if it’s being considered.

3. If you don’t get a satisfactory response from your state representative, organize a rally at your statehouse. Invite the media. Make your voice heard!

Read more in the July 2012 issue of EBONY Magazine on page 28.