Did George Zimmerman act in self-defense? Was Trayvon Martin victim of an overzealous gunman? Could both have been victim to an ill-written law?
Deadly force: "Force that is intended or known by the actor to cause, or in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing, death or serious bodily injury."
The "Stand Your Ground" laws allow the use of deadly force by persons who reasonably believe they are in immediate danger of death or serious injury without first having to attempt retreat. On paper, laws like this appear straightforward but in reality it's not so simple.
Here's a hypothetical situation:
A man attacks a woman on the street. The man is larger and stronger but she is armed. He knocks her to the ground, she uses her gun to kill him. Keep in mind the law says the victim is not required to attempt retreat. A reasonable response? Let's change the scenario a bit. The man knocks her to the ground then backs off saying he won't fight anymore. She shoots and kills him anyway. Is it self defense or murder? And yet another: The man backs off but she reaches for her gun. The man, who is also armed, draws his weapon and kills her. Murder or self defense?
A person who reads the law and compares it to the scenarios provided, will likely see where the lines were or were not crossed, but what if you only had seconds to react?
As a former soldier with training in combat tactics and using firearms, I know there may be only seconds to react to a potential threat. Seconds can mean the difference between living, dying or, killing or injuring an innocent person.
Despite police and military personnel receiving constant training, we still hear about incidents of unintentional shootings of unarmed people by them. If this happens with trained, professionals, how do we expect common citizens with minimal training to react in a tense situation?
If citizens authorized to carry weapons are required to attempt retreat, if possible, before using deadly force during a confrontation in a public place, it may defuse the situation and allow vital, extra time to determine if the threat is real.
Obviously, someone pointing a weapon saying, "I'm going to kill you!" would be a recognizable threat but seldom do real threats reveal themselves this way.
George Zimmerman broke a common sense rule by pursuing Trayvon Martin, but according to Florida law, neither person was obliged to flee if each believed themselves in mortal danger after the confrontation began. An obvious recipe for disaster since one of them was armed.
No one can say with certainty if the Florida law had this requirement, if Trayvon Martin would still be alive, but if Zimmerman followed the letter of the law with the dedication that he policed his community with, perhaps the chances of that deadly encounter may have been greatly reduced.