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 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. It 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.
Florida is a Stand Your Ground state and from the Martin shooting to the shooting of Jordan Davis over loud music at a gas station in Jacksonville, and to a retired police chief in a Florida movie theater, who claimed self-defense after shooting a man who was armed with popcorn, “Stand Your Ground” laws are being invoked.
These events shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; this is exactly what happens in a society where people carry guns into the town square and have at their disposal a defense that could exonerate them from any wrongdoing. When the fundamental principle of any civilized society, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” becomes vague, the circumstances that challenge it will widen. Or as comedian Louis CK put it: “The law against murder is the number one thing preventing murder.”
The problems with these initiatives are not their purpose to protect our domicile, our family or our person, positions we all share, but in the language that accompanies them: “without becoming liable to prosecution.”
This is a sharp turn that compromises the foundational principles of liberty and justice. In fact, it is the degeneration of justice. Castle Doctrine implies 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 than what a sane society should demand from its judicial charters.
Castle Doctrine is reactionary and symptomatic of the greater illness permeating modern society: The sickness of fear and suspicion.
It is what we saw in Arizona with profiling laws that allow for legal citizens to be apprehended on the fear that they might be illegal. It is witnessed by American imperialism due to the fear of enemies overseas; it is the creation of the Patriot Act that compromises our personal freedoms in the name of intelligence gathering due to fear of losing our freedoms!
In Florida alone, 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.” He stated further: “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.”
At a National District Attorneys Association symposium concerns were voiced that “Stand Your Ground” laws could increase crime as criminals could use the law as a defense for their crimes. They 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.
People are saying, “I have the right to protect my home, my family and myself!” and I do not disagree. The question becomes how while maintaining impartial justice in a 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.
Put the 2nd Amendment blank check aside for a moment and let’s focus on solutions to save lives and reduce crime. These laws, designed to give gun owners justifiable reasons to use their guns, do not reduce crime or create greater security around us. They are instead reckless, irresponsible, and frankly, uncivilized.
They are the result of fear and suspicion and are the antithesis of what true protection requires: Sanity and justice.