On August 24, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till visited relatives in Money, Mississippi. He was accused of reportedly flirting with a white cashier at a grocery store. Four days later, two white men kidnapped Emmett, beat him and shot him in the head.
The men were tried for Emmett’s murder and acquitted by a jury of their peers (an all white jury). Emmett’s mother held an open casket funeral for the world to see the brutal murder of her son. His death spurred the emerging Civil Rights Movement.
Fast-forward six decades later. In the state of Florida, the grieving mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis have summoned the same courage as Emmett’s mother. They are fighting for gun reform and the repeal of Florida’s infamous Stand Your Ground laws (otherwise known as Shoot-First Laws).
According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Florida and 25 other states have passed Stand Your Ground laws. These laws shield individuals who use deadly force to injure or kill, provided that the shooter can convince a judge that he/she had reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm. Moreover, there is no duty to retreat from the confrontation before engaging in the act of deadly force.
Before Stand Your Ground laws, the law permitted Americans to defend themselves against a stranger attack inside their home or a public altercation. In most cases, one should retreat. However, since the implementation of Stand Your Ground laws, the American public’s perception of self-defense has changed.
Today, everyone is armed and paranoid that everyone else is armed. America is quickly becoming a nation that would rather shoot first than stand down. With each Stand Your Ground claim, Americans are unconsciously becoming more frightened and more violent while finding it more appropriate to shoot first and justify it later.
The Stand Your Ground laws have taken away the very notion that people have a moral obligation to avoid danger or to safely retreat from a public altercation. Instead, these laws are authorizing stupid, immoral and tragic behaviors. They tolerate reckless behavior of citizens who decide to take the life of another due to their own poor judgment – with self-defense as justification.
Sadly, we have become a shoot first and justify later nation. So, how can the grieving mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis change the dogma of our society?
In all honestly, considering the strong proponents of the Second Amendment (one’s right to bear arms), it will be nearly impossible to repeal laws such as Stand Your Ground. The philosophy of the Second Amendment is one of the foundations on which our political system and society was built.
The only recommendation is to have explicit cooperation and support from both the American people and our leaders to repeal Stand Your Ground laws. But, how many people have to die or fall victim to such laws before that support can be attained?