The Trayvon Martin verdict: Are the Stand Your Ground laws and easy gun access a lethal combination for our kids?

SMU Law Professor Meghan Ryan talks about the jury verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin.

By Nancy Churnin
The Dallas Morning News

As parents, we all worry about our children the moment they are out of our sight. As Elizabeth Stone so eloquently wrote: “Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ”

Passions are running high on both sides about the Saturday acquittal of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in the case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida 17-year-old whom Zimmerman shot and killed as Trayvon was on his way back to the apartment where he was staying with his father in February 2012.

Those who expected or wanted a different outcome blame the jury. But the jury made a reasonable decision based on the laws we have, two Dallas experts in the law told me this morning. So if legally, George Zimmerman is innocent of Trayvon Martin’s death, then who is guilty? Could our laws be to blame?

Florida has had a stand your “stand your ground” law since 2005 that gives people the right to use lethal force on an attacker if they believe they are acting in self defense. Texas expanded its “castle doctrine,” which allows you to use lethal force when defending your home, with elements of the “stand the ground law” in 2009, Douglas Uloth, a Dallas lawyer with a special interest in constitutional law, explains.

These laws remove a person’s duty to retreat to safety and says a person can attack if they have a reasonable fear of harm or death. These laws, coupled with easy access to legal guns, can prove a lethal combination, says Meghan Ryan, a professor at the SMU Dedman School of Law. . .

In fact, since the castle doctrine and stand your ground laws have been enacted in Florida and 16 other states, “justifiable” homicides, as they are called, have nearly doubled from 2000 to 2010. Plus, not only have these laws resulted in an increase in homicides, they have failed to deter crime, according to  a Texas A&M study by Professor Mark Hoekstra and Cheng Cheng, who write that there are an additional 500 to 700 homicides per year nationally in states with these laws.
Which brings us back to the question of what can parents do to protect their kids? One thing people can do is to take a closer look at these laws, all of which are new to the 21st century, Ryan says.
“The jury did what they are supposed to do,” Ryan says. “If people don’t like these laws, they should work towards changing them.”

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