Overheard on CNN.com: How do you discern self-defense under 'stand your ground' laws?
The death of Trayvon Martin has stirred up lots of conversation about the "stand your ground" law in Florida.
March 22nd, 2012
09:40 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: How do you discern self-defense under 'stand your ground' laws?

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman last month. Readers are debating Zimmerman's self-defense claim as well as the pros and cons of "stand your ground" laws. They've also wondered if race was a factor.

Trayvon Martin's parents to meet with justice officials

CNN.com reader Patrick Ingram of Arlington, Virginia, said in a video comment that he believes "stand your ground" laws may make it too easy for people to kill others.

"I could be walking home from a bar somewhere late at night, and someone could look at me and shoot me and not be prosecuted to the full extent of the law because of this rule," he said.

He also emphasized that he thinks acts made in self-defense should be protected, especially if someone is in danger.

We discussed some of the conversations about race that are taking place. (Check out comments from the In America blog.) Was race a factor in this case? Ingram paused a bit.

"I think there's something more to it," he said. "I think there's something more than race."

Ingram got a critical response from one reader.

VinKing: "I feel this position is mostly ignorant of how the law actually works. This current travesty of justice has nothing to do with the law and everything to do with the full-blown incompetence and bias of the law enforcement agency responsible for the area in question."

iReporter Egberto Willies said race is likely a factor.

"When we stop wearing (rose-colored) glasses and start by first being honest about our own racist tendencies, this is but a charade," he said.

Other readers from CNN.com wrote along the same lines as Ingram, in that they don't think self-defense claims apply in every case. They also wanted to differentiate the debate from concerns over race.

uva187: "I don't care about race in this situation. No man should be able to pursue another, instigate a confrontation, shoot another man and then claim self-defense. Period."

onesittingbill: "Yep. Just like the man who shot a father in front of his 8-year-old daughter is now saying self-defense. The big difference is this happened in broad daylight, in front of many witnesses."

So, how do you define self-defense? That was one question among many readers tackled in response to an opinion piece.

Opinion: Killing shows flaws of NRA-backed law

One thing to ask is, who started it?

Fool_Killer: "The law is not flawed. It does not apply to someone who starts a confrontation, and therefore is irrelevant in this case. You can’t start a fight and then claim self-defense. Those who say it does apply and is therefore flawed should be ashamed of using a teenager’s murder to further their own agenda."

Solitairedog: "If this law is not being applied to this murder, why is Zimmerman not in jail?"

boozer1982: "As it was said in the article: 'Dead men don't talk!' How could anyone prove that the shooter started the fight?"

Rich7553: "@boozer1982 – It is irrelevant. Even if the law did not exist, the same evidentiary and due process procedures would be utilized in order to prove or disprove a self-defense claim."

Who has what burden?

Yanette Rivera: "Self-defense law already permits the use of deadly force in certain reasonable and imminent situations. 'Stand your ground' laws, therefore, do not merely allow the use of deadly force —- they remove the burden of proving that such force was either reasonable or necessary."

peace2us: "Very true. The other effect it has down here has also impacted your basic fist-fight. Prior to the law, if you could retreat safely in a confrontation, then you were required to do so. Now, no one has to retreat and the confrontations escalate, often leading to much greater violence. Both sides claim self-defense based on their individual perceptions. It is very difficult to prosecute without an independent witness who can clearly point out who the aggressor was. 'Cooler heads prevail' has gone out the freaking window here in Florida. And yes, I own three firearms, support gun ownership, and have a CCW."

One person noted they think there's a good reason why "stand your ground" laws exist.

darkrat: "There is a reason behind this. Before, you get attacked, you defend yourself, and then you spend tens of thousands of dollars fighting to stay out of jail. The burden of proof was put on the real victim."

Other readers wondered if Martin may have provoked Zimmerman in some way.

thinker756: "No one seems to look at the possibility that Zimmerman approached this kid with the gun drawn, and that the kid jumped him because he quite rightly felt that his life was in danger. If someone came up to me with a gun, wouldn't I have the right to try to defend myself?"

dfr333: "Zimmerman was attacked, and physical evidence and one witness has corroborated this. You might not like Zimmerman's self-defense, but nevertheless, that is what this case boils down to, and law enforcement and the legal system cannot make up twisted facts, only the media, and people such as yourself can make up facts. When will this mob mentality end?"

In the end, what does it mean? Was race involved?

Barry Solano: "The Florida law does indeed seem to be confusing, and the most confusing part of it is whether the events that precede the actor's determination that his life is in danger have any standing. For example, can I chase someone down, slap them around a little bit, and then shoot them when they attempt to defend themselves - and call it self-defense?"

BinaryTruth: "Just so long as you kill them so they can't contradict your version of the story. Oh, and don't shoot a white person as the application of laws by the police differ from skin color to skin color."

VinKing said it's about how you enforce the law.

"If I shoot a teenager holding a bag of Skittles, I expect the law to crack down on me like the wrath of God. Just because I enjoy the ability to be armed and defend myself doesn't mean I should go looking for an excuse to get into a gunfight. These situations are highly dangerous for all involved. The lack of prosecution in this case shows a form of bias that doesn't stem from the defense laws in Florida, which have provisions that state what is and is not a good shoot. The fault here is in the police, who are perfectly capable of drawing up manslaughter charges pending the outcome of an investigation into possible murder."

There are many sides to this story, and we'd love to hear what you think. Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or tell us what you think about this issue via CNN iReport. You can post a video comment like Ingram's if you scroll down to the blue button at the bottom of this page.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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Filed under: Florida • iReport • Overheard on CNN.com • Trayvon Martin
soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Guy


    According to the Florida Laws, the following are LEGAL so stop complaining.
    1. It is legal for an armed stranger to watch a minor (17 years and under) from a car.
    2. It is legal for an armed stranger to FOLLOW a minor (17 years and under) with his car.
    3. It is legal for an armed stranger to FOLLOW a minor (17 years and under) on foot.
    4. It is legal for an armed stranger to profile the minor (17 years and under) and say that this a-hoe minor should NOT get away.
    5. And BEST of all, it is very very LEGAL for the armed stranger to SHOOT, KNIFE or HURT the minor (17 years and under) if the minor reacts to being followed with any force.

    Natasha Martinez, 17 was followed and knifed several times. .
    Joseph Brewer, 16, was followed and killed.
    Michael Dunn's attempted genocide of the Black teens, killing one then claiming self-defense is perfectly acceptable under Florida's law.

    The bottom line is according to Florida laws, it is perfectly legal for an armed stranger to follow a minor (17 years and under) in the dark. And if that NAIVE minor (who does not really know much about how to react to these types of things, yet) reacts with force, it is perfectly legal for the armed stranger to shoot, knife, do great bodily harm or kill that child (minor), then declare self-defense. According to the Florida Law, the minor is the aggressor, therefore the Florida court will always protect the killer.

    Everyone should do all these things that are legal.

    That's the Florida Law that should be followed to the tee.

    August 2, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
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