Castles in the Air

With Republicans taking the majority in both the Iowa Senate and House there are going to be several Republican-based initiatives that have been waiting (im)patiently in the wings for several years, that will become front and center as soon as the legislature reconvenes.

One such issue is going to be Castle Doctrine.

Castle Doctrine has been around for several years, but became scrutinized as a result of the Trayvon Martin murder in Florida in February of 2012.  What it is, is the position that a person’s abode (their “castle” or, in some states, any place legally occupied, such as a car or work envirnoment) is a place in which the person is entitled to certain  protections and immunities and may attack an intruder without becoming liable to prosecution.

“Stand Your Ground” law is a term that we probably hear more often, and it is a broader realization of that concept and states that a person may use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first.

I understand the support that follows this legislation, as I, myself, have considered what I would do if my children were threatened.  I would attempt to destroy any threat, and would defend myself to any degree necessary if I thought my life were in jeopardy.  But this doctrine is a suspicious solution to violent crime.

It is the legislative cousin of Arizona profiling laws that allow for legal citizens to be apprehended on the fear that they might be illegal.  It is related to American imperialist expansion that stems from the fear of our enemies overseas.  It is an ideological extension of the Patriot Act that challenges our personal freedoms in the name of intelligence gathering due to…fear of losing our freedoms.

Castle Doctrine and “Stand Your Ground” laws are capricious, irresponsible and dangerous due to the fact that citizens carrying guns, without training to avoid or contain violence, will likely create more.

Most private citizens are not criminologists, law enforcement officers, detectives or self-defense experts and this doctrine empowers them to make professional, trained, decisions that can determine life or death. They challenge justice.

The insidious issue with these initiatives is not the concept of protecting our families or ourselves, positions we ALL share, but in the language that accompanies them:  “Without becoming liable to prosecution.”  Castle Doctrines imply that if a person has to consider their legal grounds that they will not act appropriately to protect themselves, so by eliminating that concern, they will.   But by making such an action immune to prosecution it also means that justice becomes less relevant.

In Florida, where the Martin case took place, the law has resulted in self-defense claims tripling and all but one killed has been unarmed.  Critics argue that the law makes it very difficult to prosecute cases against people who shoot and then claim self-defense because they felt threatened, and in most cases, the only other witness is the victim who was killed.

Miami police chief John F. Timoney called the law unnecessary and dangerous:  “Whether its trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn’t want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you’re encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn’t be used.”

Again, I understand why many people are saying, “Enough is enough!  I have the right to protect my home, my family and myself!” and I do not disagree– the question becomes how while maintaining a just and civilized society.  We have a long history in America of creating shorthand solutions to longhand problems and that’s what Castle Doctrine follows.   A law that exonerates a shooter because they make what appears to be a fair claim of self-defense is reckless and ultimately un-constitutional.

Let’s put the 2nd Amendment blank check aside for a moment and let’s focus on solutions to save lives and reduce crime. Own a firearm if you believe you must, and stand by what you see as your constitutional right– but everyone possessing a lethal weapon for the purpose of defense should have to pass at least an entry level instruction and prove firing proficiency and knowledge of safety.

I simply cannot understand why we put logical compliance demands on every other potentially lethal kind of equipment such as motor vehicles yet have no guidelines on owning and operating firearms; a single function mechanism designed to kill.  Immigrants study American history to become a citizen, we study rules of the road to drive a car, businesses often require that their leadership attend seminars to move up– is it so far-fetched to think that people owning an instrument, that when misused can end an innocent person’s life, should be held to lower standards?

In a 2007 National District Attorneys Association symposium questioned safety when more people are carrying guns, and they concluded that people would not feel safe if they felt that anyone could use deadly force in a conflict.  The report also noticed that the misinterpretation of clues could result in use of deadly force when there was, in fact, no danger.

Just last night I heard someone say, “The police cannot protect us, so we have to arm ourselves with guns in our homes and in our schools.”

I responded, “That’s a bit like telling people ‘the fire department can’t get to your house fast enough- so your best bet is to stay inside and put the fire out yourself!'”

We are not trained and it isn’t logical and logic is what we need to use right now.

We remember the lives of victims with the sorrow we share, but we honor them with our wisdom and not with our anger.  It’s time to replace anger and fear with logic and reason.

 

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