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'Stand your ground law' on shaky, dangerous soil

Published: Sunday, June 11, 2006

Updated: Sunday, February 15, 2009 17:02

Maybe it's not proof, but the six men dead and four wounded should suggest to the state of Florida that maybe the "stand your ground law" enacted by Florida on Oct. 1 should be sent back to the drawing board.

The law loosens the restrictions on the use of deadly force in self-defense. It stretched the "castle doctrine," which said people could use deadly force in their homes if they felt their lives were in danger; to include the use of deadly force by people in public places for the same reasons. It does not require people to attempt to retreat before killing.

The Orlando Sentinel conducted a five-month review of court records in Orange, Lake, Polk, Seminole and Volusia counties and found that since the law took effect, 13 people have pulled the trigger under the new law. Only two of the 13 who fired their guns were firing at an armed person: one with a machete, who was shot and killed, and one with a crowbar, who was uninjured because the shooter forgot to load the gun.

In April, Michael Brady, 43, shot and killed Justin Boyette, 23, and a stranger to Brady, in his front yard. Boyette was unarmed. Brady told the Sentinel he was scared. No charges were brought against Brady.

In March, Michael Graham, 34, shot and wounded 15-year-old Carlos Avilez who was attempting to steal his wife's car. Graham told the police he felt threatened by the teen, who was shot by Graham's 9 mm pistol in the back of the leg. A witness told Orange County deputies that Avilez might have been shot while fleeing. Again, there were no charges.

At this point we should ask ourselves whether an unarmed 15-year-old boy, who was probably scared and running away from a confrontation, is a threat to a grown man with a gun.

The analysis also found that there was no clear method for handling these cases. The new law requires self-defense claims to be investigated, but it doesn't allow police to detain or arrest a suspect without evidence of a second motive, such as anger or malice. Detectives spent a differing amount of time on the cases, the Sentinel reported. Some cases took 20 hours of a detective's time; some never crossed a detective's desk.

The Avilez case was never reviewed by detectives. Instead, the on-call detective told the responding deputies to forward their reports to the State's Attorney's Office for review.

There must be hard-and-fast guidelines surrounding the act of killing or wounding someone with a gun, even in self-defense. This law merely muddies the waters, bringing with it the potential of abuse. It may not open the floodgates to a wave of vigilante violence as some predicted, but it lets out a trickle.

This law does not stand its ground. It is dangerous and ill planned. If the state felt so compelled to revise self-defense laws, then it should have done it in a more responsible fashion.

Florida's lawmakers should scrap this law and try again.

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