Chickens, Eggs, and the Castle Doctrine

Don't you feel safer?

Now we have pictures of George Zimmerman’s bloody head which some say bolsters his self-defense argument.  Like so much of today’s thinking about rights and responsibilities, this one seems rather simple and misguided.  If that is indeed Zimmerman’s bloody head, I guess my reaction is so what?

A couple of things to keep in mind.

First and most obviously, if Zimmerman had been minding his own business he wouldn’t have had to “defend” himself.  All the 911 transcripts support a telling of the events that show Zimmerman trailing a person completely within his rights to be out and about in free America.  Even after being told not to follow Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman did so anyway.  But this is an old story and one that raises obvious doubts about Zimmerman’s justification for shooting Martin.

But I think there is an even simpler concern about which I don’t hear much talk.  If the so-called “Castle Doctrine” is indeed designed to ensure that people have the right to defend themselves if they feel threatened, who has that right?  Everyone, right?  Under these laws a person may use deadly force if he feels his life might be at risk or feels that serious bodily may occur.

We don’t know when Zimmerman pulled out his gun to shoot Martin, but wouldn’t being stalked by a man with a gun look like a threat to you?  Maybe just being stalked by an angry guy talking on a cell phone might be a threat.  Trayvon Martin didn’t have a gun.  If Zimmerman’s story holds up, one might easily surmise that Martin was acting in his own self defense.   (And doing so without the use of a weapon, by the way.)

So when does one person become the victim and the other the attacker?  Moreover, as these self defense laws are more broadly applied to public space, couldn’t one even imagine a scenario when criminal becomes victim and in turn applies his right to self defense?

Imagine a situation in which a person is caught stealing something and the owner of that property becomes enraged and starts beating on the thief.  If the thief feels that his life is at risk, can he pull out a gun and shoot the property owner?

What is it with all these macho guys and guns anyway?  How tough are you if you need to resolve threats with the service of a firearm?  It seems to me that we are a rather paranoid and insecure society that values property rights over human rights and this sort of self defense argument is only one more manifestation of that twisted set of priorities.

But logically the real issue here is very much like the chicken and egg puzzle.  If we’re going to start letting people make decisions with firearms based on a fear, whose fear trumps another’s?  Who gets the right to say they are entitled to defense over another?  This is especially an issue when people take their defense into public spaces.

Pay attention to who supports this stuff.  They are not right.  The civil society we once took for granted is being taken away from us.

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3 thoughts on “Chickens, Eggs, and the Castle Doctrine

  1. Damon

    I found your blog via a search for “No Trespassing” signs and felt obligated to respond. First of all, I’m not sure if you fully understand the Castle Doctrine. “Castle” = Home (from the English phrase “an Englishman’s home is his castle” and most of this is in the wiki link you posted) It doesn’t apply in public spaces and In the vast majority of states, the law includes language similar to “in their home, their workplace, protecting a child or protecting a family member” So unfortunately, your argument about the gray area of the public space is moot. Florida law never meant for the doctrine to apply to pursuit but only defense. Zimmerman and the media simply tried to make the doctrine apply to this situation but it did NOT.

    http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/03/21/trayvon-martins-alleged-attacker-not-covered-under-law-wrote/

    Surely you would agree that a person has the right to defend themselves or their children in their own home. And the Castle Doctrine laws replaced the older and more vague “reasonable person” standard. Under Castle Doctrine you can’t shoot a fleeing criminal in the back. You can’t provoke the attacker into attacking. You can’t use unnecessary force to stop the attack. And anyone who thinks the law allows them “shoot first, ask questions later” will end up jail.

    This ‘civil society’ you speak of is a place where burglars sue homeowners after getting injured (intentionally or accidentally) while committing a crime. I do not condone roaming around looking for vigilante justice, but as Americans we have the right (a TRUE right, not a privilege) to carry arms and protect ourselves. The Castle Law simply protects citizens in their home or workplace from ridiculous litigation. It is not about valuing property rights over human rights. Criminals lose many of their rights (once convicted they lose their right to freedom until their sentence is finished) Once a person knowingly trespasses or breaks into a home, they are breaking the law and subject to the possible repercussions.

    I believe a person’s home is indeed their castle, a place of refuge and family, and I am thankful the law allows me to protect my home from those who have broken the law and could bring harm to my family.

    Reply
  2. Jacquelyn Mitchard

    One has to right to follow a person, especially a suspicious one and ask them a few questions in all 57 states. What is blatantly illegal everywhere is to commit assault & battery merely because one felt like they were being followed. Crayon Martin brought it all on himself…

    Reply
  3. JC

    It is blatantly illegal in all 57 states to commit assault & battery merely for the perception of being followed. However it is legal everywhere to merely follow somebody perceived to be suspicious and/or ask a few questions. One of course is not obligated to answer such questions of course but the appropriate response is not to attack somebody physically like a Ghetto thug.

    Reply

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