Do 'Stand Your Ground' laws make communities unsafe?
via AP

Do 'Stand Your Ground' laws make communities unsafe?

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Florida wants to tweak its Stand Your Ground laws so the burden of proof lies on the prosecution to show the shooter was not acting in self-defense. Critics of Stand Your Ground laws say instead of expanding the law, lawmakers should rein in or repeal those laws because they make communities unsafe. Proponents of Stand Your Ground laws say people should have the fundamental right to protect themselves. What do you think?

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Florida is considering expanding its Stand You Ground law so the person claiming self-defense is further protected from legal repercussions.

If the new measure is enacted, the state would again be at the forefront of expanding self-defense laws. Florida would become the first state to apply a tougher standard to the law, putting the onus on prosecutors at the immunity hearing. The burden of proof would be shifted to prosecutors, and defendants would no longer have to present evidence, typically by taking the stand, to prove their claim of self-defense.

The idea is if the law says it's okay to use lethal force in self-defense, and the law also assumes a person's innocence, then the burden of proof is on the government to show that the person did not actually shoot someone in self-defense.

“I think of all the people who will be saved because we did this right and put the burden of proof where it belongs,” State Senator Dennis Baxley, one of the authors of the original 2005 Stand Your Ground bill, said during a passionate floor debate that touched on the importance of self-defense and the reality of race in America. “I’m sorry if that burden seems too heavy. That’s what we do in America. You are innocent until proven guilty.”

Proponents of Stand Your Ground laws are celebrating the proposed expansion because they believe people fundamentally have the right to protect themselves.

Inextricable from the unalienable rights to life and liberty that serve as the bedrock of our republic is the corollary right of self-defense. Far from being the invitation to anarchy that some have insinuated it is, Stand Your Ground” is a legal principle that recognizes those rights, and attempts to tilt the balance in favor of the attacked. It serves, if you will, to remove the heckler’s punch from dominating the public square.

In practice, Stand Your Ground laws are messy and often lead to abuse. 

More than 20 states have enacted similar laws. In Florida it has sparked a boom in self-defense claims that have left courts, prosecutors and the police wrestling with contradictory interpretations. Stand Your Ground immunity was quickly invoked by killers in barroom brawls and gang wars, according to a detailed 2012 study of nearly 200 cases by The Tampa Bay Times. Almost 7 in 10 people making the claim were not charged, while in 68 percent of the cases the victims were unarmed.

Stand Your Ground laws are good on principle, but the real world effect is largely negative. There are better ways to improve a community's safety than making it easier for individuals to use lethal force. All of the lives saved thanks to Stand Your Ground laws are hypothetical, but the laws' repercussions are very real. 

Research by legal institutions, including the American Bar Association, found that the Stand Your Ground law, far from advancing public safety, has been followed by an increase in homicides, diminished victims’ rights and heightened racial injustice in enforcement.
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