“No duty to retreat.”
That is the foundation of the controversial “stand your ground” laws that are in effect in over half the states. These laws allow people to “stand their ground” to “prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” The law applies both in- and outside of a person’s home. Self-defense laws have traditionally required an initial attempt to retreat, and it is only after that attempt has failed that reasonable self-defense measures can be used. In the now-infamous trial of George Zimmerman, who was accused of shooting unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, the defense attorneys did not actually evoke Florida’s version of stand your ground to defend Zimmerman. Nonetheless, the shooting of Martin and Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal have brought the law into the national spotlight.
While at least 29 states in addition to Florida have stand your ground laws, Florida’s version is somewhat unique. Florida does not require the person asserting self-defense to attempt retreat before fighting back. Florida also requires police to have specific evidence to refute a self-defense claim in order to arrest someone claiming self-defense.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder called for reconsideration of stand your ground laws. Holder stated that these laws “senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods…There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if—and the ‘if’ is important—no safe retreat is available.”
The NRA attacked Holder’s comments, claiming, “The attorney general fails to understand that self-defense is not a concept, it’s a fundamental human right.”
While the NRA may believe that Holder “fails to understand” the fundamental human right to defend against an attacker, the NRA’s statement fails to recognize the Christian principle of turning the other check and responding non-violently, even in the face of violence. Of course, the NRA is not obligated to consider these principles. Christians, however, are.
Jesus taught us how to respond to violence. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
Juror B37 from the Zimmerman trial told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Martin was, in part, responsible for his own death. He should have, she said, run away. She also said she will be praying for those who can repeal the Florida stand your ground law that, in her words, required her to vote for Zimmerman’s acquittal. “My prayers are with all those who have the influence and power to modify the laws that left me with no verdict option other than ‘not guilty’ in order to remain within the instructions.”
In other words, both Zimmerman and Martin should have left the situation and avoided confrontation.
When our own human frailty may cause us to lash out in anger or defense, we have the words of Jesus to instruct our actions: walk away, turn the other check, avoid the confrontation.
Stevie Wonder has said he won’t perform in Florida—or any other stand your ground state—until the law is repealed.
The Attorney General of the United States is asking that states reconsider the law.
People in high places are speaking out.
But things may not change.
Then, as now, we use the tools provided to us: we pray. We read and learn from Scripture. We maintain community that builds us up in loving and moral ways. We try to be a little more like Jesus every day. We refuse to let a culture that allows and even respects a showdown change what we know to be good and right. Because it isn’t the laws on the books that matter. What matters is whether we’re a people who use worldly shields as our defense, or Godly commands to guide our actions. Whether or not we ascribe solely to the law of the land, or also to a higher power. Whether or not we will retreat in the face of a corrupt enemy, or whether we will stand our ground.
Jamie Calloway-Hanauer is a writer and attorney living in the SF Bay Area with her husband, Andy, and their children. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Her work can be found in Sojourner’s, FaithVillage, Literary Mama, and the Allegheny Review, among others. She blogs weekly at http://jamiecallowayhanauer.
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