Bob Barr

The legal concept of standing one’s ground against deadly force has been a part of American culture since our founding as a nation; and has been an explicit component of our country’s law for more than 100 years. An individual’s right to possess a firearm to defend one’s self is guaranteed unequivocally in the Second Amendment to our Constitution. And, in the case known as Beard v. United States, the Supreme Court in 1895 ruled that a person facing a violent assault may repel that action by force, including deadly force, without first “retreating.”

This century-old legal precedent defined what now are commonly referred to as “Stand Your Ground” laws, which have been adopted by some 30 states. Those laws now are being targeted by anti-gun advocates such as President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as by some moderate Republican lawmakers, including Arizona Sen. John McCain. The catalyst for such criticism is the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman by a Florida jury, which found him not guilty in the shooting death last year of Trayvon Martin.

In fact, the Florida jury’s recent decision acquitting Zimmerman was based not on that state’s Stand Your Ground law, but on the even more basic common law principle of self-defense. Never pausing to allow facts to get in the way of excuses to push their gun-control agenda, however, Obama and Holder are leading the crusade to weaken or repeal state Stand Your Ground Laws based on the Zimmerman verdict.

Even if Zimmerman’s lawyers had invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, it might not have cleared him of wrongdoing. The fact of the matter is – despite the effort to demonize such laws by the gun-control crowd – the statutes do not offer a blank check to “shoot first and ask questions later;” neither do they serve as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for those involved in contested shooting incidents. The Tampa Bay Times, for example, compiled a list of more than 200 shooting incidents across Florida involving the Stand Your Ground law. Of the 133 incidents in which the shootings were fatal, only 54 percent were deemed justified by the courts.

Yet, in a speech delivered to the NAACP mere days after the Zimmerman verdict, Holder slammed Stand Your Ground laws, saying they “senselessly expand the concept of self-defense.” He added that such laws undermine public safety by “allowing -- and perhaps encouraging -- violent situations to escalate in public.” Holder has also criticized Stand Your Ground supporters for “creating an issue where none existed,” which is, ironically, exactly what he is doing.

Obama, Holder, and other critics of Stand Your Ground laws are, in effect, adopting the notion that it is not the responsibility of the individual to defend himself or herself against attack, but rather the government’s duty to do so for them. In this worldview, the individual is supposed meekly to “back away” from a confrontation and let the State, through police intervention -- one supposes – take over. This is the European cultural view -- a philosophy very much at odds with that on which our nation was founded, and which served us well until recently, when the gun-control crowd began its push for cultural recognition.

We are a nation that was founded precisely on the notion of taking a stand and repelling aggressors who sought to take away what was rightfully ours. Ours was not a nation that retreated when the British sent their ships to our shores. We always have protected our homeland and defended it from harm. “The west was won,” not by retreating and backing away from confrontations with adverse forces, but rather by meeting and overcoming those challenges. It is the quintessential American way. And it is one reason America is the sole remaining world superpower and European nations are not.

This same principle is at work in Stand Your Ground laws across America; laws reflecting the reality that retreating when facing a violent assailant rarely, if ever, carries the day for the victim.

Moreover, Stand Your Ground laws remove the confusion over when, and how, citizens may legally defend themselves in situations of peril. It takes much of the “legal guesswork” out of situations where every second counts, and second-guessing could lead to extreme bodily harm, or even death.

Rather than weaken Americans’ right to self-defense, we should be strengthening such a fundamental right, and trust the courts to adjudicate and render justice when and where needed. Europeans may think otherwise -- as apparently do Obama, Holder, McCain and others here in America. However, most Americans would, I suspect, put their faith not in European pacifism, but in the understanding and resolve of the American people and our forbearers.


Bob Barr

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 -2003 and as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986-1990.