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'License to kill': How 'stand your ground' gun laws are fueling random shootings and racism across America

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In America, seemingly any conversation, no matter how innocuous, can end in gun violence.

Consider this month only. In Kansas City, Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old black man with dreams of a career in engineering, was fatally shot for ringing the wrong doorbell. A group of young cheerleaders in Texas were shot after accidentally driving into the wrong car in a grocery store parking lot. Kaylin Gillis, 20, was fatally shot in rural New York after accidentally pulling into the wrong driveway. And six-year-old Kinsley White of Gastonia, North Carolina, was shot along with her parents after her basketball bounced into a neighbor’s yard.

Experts say random acts of violence are made worse by so-called “stand your ground” laws, provisions that the US Commission on Civil Rights once labeled “allegory”.Licence to Kill,

Ralph Yarl: Prosecutors charge Kansas City homeowner with shooting teen

“If this is the kind of thing where ‘stand your ground’ can be enforced, then every US postal worker, every Amazon delivery person, every pizza delivery person, every Girl Scout volunteer, anybody who knocks on your door becomes any person who is now subject to someone to be shot,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said of the Ralph Yarl shooting In an interview on MSNBC,

Traditionally, under the law of self-defense, deadly force is considered a last resort, and people generally have a duty to retreat from a situation before resorting to violence, said William and Mary Law director Professor Kami N. According to the Chavis School Center for Criminal Justice Policy and Reform. At home, the “castle principle” often applies, meaning that one does not need to retreat from mortal danger.

However, he told Independentin estimation 35 states with stand your ground laws or similar provisions, Law takes things a step further. In these (often Republican) states, the castle doctrine has been expanded and the duty to retreat into places well outside the home has been abolished. Deadly force may be used not only to prevent imminent threats of harm, but also to prevent theft, or in states such as Florida, to prevent an unarmed person from entering an unoccupied vehicle. Is.

Professor Chavis said, “I oppose your land laws because they do not allow people to reduce their conditions.”

The first such law passed in Utah in 1994, and since then they have spread across the country with millions of dollars of support from the gun lobby and the political influence of conservative-leaning advocacy organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council. Froelich, state policy director of the Giffords Law Center, an advocacy group striving to reduce gun violence.

Despite this concerted and highly successful effort, he said, the laws were not proposed as solutions to any well-defined problems with public safety or criminal justice legislation.

The National Rifle Association helped lobby for the proliferation of Stand Your Ground-style laws, at the same time gun manufacturers began marketing high-powered weapons for self-defense.

(Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“There was no real problem they were solving,” Mr. Freilich said. “There’s no one sitting in jail that they’re pointing to to say that their use of force should have been justified.”

Instead, Mr. Freilich said, Stand Your Ground came about when the gun industry was trying to balance new sales with the decline of traditional money-makers like hunting.

“It took them a while. They have now developed a new market. That market was based on fear,” he said.

The new business plan revolved not around selling hunting rifles, but high-powered semi-automatic pistols and assault weapons for a new ascendant notion of “self-defense” by playing on racial fears about the rise of terrorism and urban violent crime. Are.

It’s hard to believe, but in the 1970s the National Rifle Association was once in favor of a ban on personal gun use, a response to calls by groups such as the Black Panther Party for black people to arm themselves in self-defense. Now, the NRA is a major supporter of legislation in the half of US states where it is legal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

The combination of many guns, relaxed standards for self-defense, and poorly trained but highly armed individuals has led to powder kegs in states with stand your ground laws.

Very studies suggest such laws Increase homicide and gun violence rates, In Florida, whose NRA-backed, 2005 Stand Your Ground law has inspired many imitators across the country, the state experienced 32 percent increase in gun homicides After the law was made.

Studies show stand your ground laws fuel violent crime, and are often disproportionately enforced to protect white gunmen

Stand your ground cases invite personal, and often racist, subjective judgments in deadly situations, according to experts. First, a person’s perception informs when they believe they are in danger, so the jury must decide whether this was reasonable.

According to evidence, this scheme often creates a shadow authority for self-defense, where white people claiming to be in danger from black people are trusted at higher rates than if the situation were reversed.

In stand your ground states, 2021 saw 45 percent of cases with a white shooter and a black victim deemed fair, according to Giffords, compared to only 11 percent of cases with a black shooter and a white victim. reports,

“If we’re going to have these laws, it looks like there’s going to be some racial disparities in them,” Professor Chavis said. “It may not be a problem with that law, it’s a social issue. If we know that and we study that, then we should try to remedy that.”

If not, she said, there will be more cases like Ralph Yarl’s, where one person’s beliefs lead to violence with lifelong ramifications.

“Black adults deliver mail and DoorDash and Uber Eats and have car problems… This law is just another opportunity for racial inequities to perpetuate and people unfortunately have to express their racial prejudices implicitly or explicitly. allows it to be used in very dangerous ways,” she said.

“You just being yourself can’t be a threat.”

And yet it looks like that may be exactly the case with Ralph Yarl.

Andrew Lester has been charged with shooting Ralph Yarl

(Reuters/MeritForTexas)

The teen was sent to pick up his younger brothers from a friend’s house, and is suspected to have been shot by Andrew Lester, an 84-year-old white man, within seconds of the youth arriving at the front door. The man, now charged with assault, told police he “scared to deathSeeing the kid on his doorstep.

Legal experts such as Professor Chavis say that Mr. Lester, who has not pleaded guilty, does not have a case of self-defense in particular—even with all the subjectivity the law allows, touching the doorknob is mostly Not a fatal situation for people – but Stand Your Ground law has a way of defying notions of common sense when it comes to the concept of self-defense.

For example, in 2012, the killer of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black boy, was partially acquitted under the law. Local resident George Zimmerman called the local police to report a “real suspicious black man” wearing a hoodie in his neighborhood. even though the 911 operator Mr. Zimmerman urged not to chase youthHe did so anyway, and killed the teen in the brawl that followed.

Trayvon Martin’s killer was partially acquitted because of stand your ground laws

More recently, in 2020, the case of Ahmaud Arbery came to light in Georgia. Two armed white men chased the black man in a truck, thinking he had trespassed at a local construction site, cornering him before finally shooting him. Police initially declared the conduct to be justifiable homicide Under Georgia’s Stand Your Ground law.

If self-defense can include deliberately provoking conversation, there is little that is outside the concept.

There is some indication, however, that despite the prevalence of guns in everyday life, and laws that make their use less likely to face scrutiny, some officers believe that self-defense and stand your ground have their own merits. There are limits.

In California, legislation is moving forward to require people to pass a written safety test with questions about safety and de-escalation before being licensed to carry a weapon in public.

The Ralph Yarl shooting is being investigated as a hate crime.

in the country with shooting more than one mass per day And more firearms Compared to people, barring dramatic changes to gun laws and American society, the next random shooting seems to be few, but a matter of time.

Beyond the law books, Mr. Freilich of the Giffords Center says Stand Your Ground reflects a larger cultural message.

“It has been interpreted, which has been heard by some, as a clear incentive for people to use force in more situations and to shoot first and ask questions later,” he said.