A spokesman for a grassroots organization who believes citizens should have a right to defend themselves in public said Georgia — like Florida with its “Stand Your Ground” law that has been used as a defense in a racially charged shooting case — should not repeal its own Stand Your Ground measure under political pressure.
“If you’re taking your family to a football game or to a party downtown or whatever, and you have no control over what neighborhood you’re in, you should still be able to protect yourself,” said Jerry Henry, executive director of GeorgiaCarry.Org. “In my opinion, the Stand Your Ground law places the criminality where it belongs — and that’s on the aggressor and not on the victim.”
The case in Florida, where a man named George Zimmerman who was on a neighborhood watch patrol and shot and killed a black teenager named Trayvon Martin, has thrown the spotlight on Stand Your Ground laws. The measures allow individuals to use force in self-defense if they believe their life is being threatened or that another type of felony may be committed upon them.
Zimmerman claims the Florida Stand Your Ground statute covers his actions since he said Martin was threatening him.
Markel Hutchins has challened Georgia’s Stand Your Ground law in a federal lawsuit, and said in the suit that some courts have “accepted the race of a victim as evidence to establish the reasonableness of an individual’s fear in cases of justifiable homicide,” according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on April 9.
Henry said Stand Your Ground law goes back to colonial days in Georgia, even though the principle was only codified in 2006. He also said around half of the states have some type of similar statute.
“I think that if I’m walking down the street with my family and my kids, or grandkids, and somebody comes up to me and sticks a knife to my throat, that I should not have to cower and beg and run off to keep from going to jail when he’s the one that’s committed the act of violence,” he believes. “To me, that’s just not the way to be. There are several states that, if a guy comes up to you and threatens you with a gun — and you kill him — you’re going to be facing murder charges, which is very difficult for me to put my arms around.”
Maj. John Gibson of the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office said he could not recall an instance of Stand Your Ground being used locally.
“That law has been used for defense in the county since it’s been put into place,” he said. “(But) I don’t remember it ever being used in the county ... Personally, I feel it’s a good law from my perspective. If citizens are properly trained with their firearms, by all means they ought to be able to defend themselves. But it’s been a moot point for us because we haven’t had any dealings with it, not that I can remember.”
Dalton resident Tobias Dirks said he believes in the Second Amendment — the right to bear arms — but with it should come responsibility.
“I feel, of course, we do have the right to bear arms — what do they call it, a regulated militia? But that imposes a burden on the person who bears arms to use good judgment in the use of arms, especially this case where the young man was fleeing the scene and was not being the aggressor,” he said. “I have found out that (Zimmerman and Martin) did have a conflict, fisticuffs or something. But during that time (Zimmerman) should have found that the young man was unarmed, I would think. Therefore, why fire on him when he was fleeing and had no solid evidence that he was armed?”
“As it stands now, I believe (the Stand Your Ground Law) is vague and should be looked at again,” he concluded.
Dirks’ wife, Judy, who chairs the Democratic Party in Whitfield County, was more succinct.
“They’re saying the young guy (Martin) threatened him, although he didn’t have any weapons on him — I’ve heard so many conflicting stories — but the way I look at it, somebody that murders somebody and they’re unarmed automatically sends up a red flag to me,” she said. “And it was like (Zimmerman) was patrolling that area and just looking for something. I believe there needs to be justice done, and (Zimmerman) was arrested and I’m glad of it. It needs to be investigated more and he needs to be charged with murder — but to what degree of murder I don’t know. It seemed like cold-blooded murder to me.”
District Attorney Bert Poston of the Conasauga Judicial Circuit (Whitfield and Murray counties) said reporting on the recent deadly shooting in Florida using the “Stand Your Ground” statute there as a defense has not been fully accurate.
“I have personally seen a good bit of misinformation — and accurate but misleading information — in the national news on the subject since the Trayvon Martin case in Florida,” he said. “The legal concept behind ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws is not a new one and has to be considered in contrast to the alternative legal principle of ‘duty to retreat.’”
Poston said under the “duty to retreat” rule, a person who is attacked cannot legally defend himself or herself with equal force “unless they first attempt to retreat or avoid the attack if they are reasonably able to do so.”
“The problem with that doctrine is that it is hard to tell during a time of great stress — such as when you are being attacked — whether you have a ‘reasonable’ opportunity to retreat,” he explained. “The rule puts the burden on the victim to justify his or her actions so that a person could defend themselves in a manner they found reasonable only to be second-guessed by a legal system exercising 20/20 hindsight. Stand Your Ground is thus the legal principle that you do not have to retreat if attacked — that you can defend yourself even if it might be possible to retreat and thereby avoid injury.”
Poston said a popular quote on the topic comes from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who in 1921 gave an an opinion in which he wrote, “Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.”
“To the best of my knowledge, Georgia has always recognized the Stand Your Ground principle,” said Poston. “There is case law going back to the late 1800s on the subject, and possibly earlier, but I’ve not done any exhaustive research.”
Henry said what happened in Sanford, Fla., with the Trayvon Martin shooting is “a tragedy.”
“Our prayers go out to the families of those involved,” he said. “However, the Florida incident has no bearing on any Stand Your Ground laws in Georgia or 23 other states.”
Henry reported the Violence Prevention Center called Stand Your Ground a “kill at will law.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “It’s the only thing that gives the law-abiding citizen any measure to defend themselves ... Even if the statute that was passed in 2006 were repealed — which we don’t expect it will be — case law still says Georgia is a Stand Your Ground state.
“It’s better to have it and not need it ... than not to have it at all.”
“Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.”
— U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in a 1921 opinion on the “Stand Your Ground” principle
Georgia’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ statute
Titled “No duty to retreat prior to use of force in self-defense,” the code section (16-3-21) says, “A person who uses threats or force in accordance with (the code), relating to the use of force in defense of self or others (and) relating to the use of force in defense of a habitation (and) relating to the use of force in defense of property other than a habitation, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and use force as provided in said code sections, including deadly force.”
District Attorney Bert Poston said the “important point” is that the 2006 statute did not change Georgia law.
“It just put legal principles that have long been recognized by the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Georgia into a written statute,” he said. “It should also be recognized that 16-3-23.1 has to be read in the context of the other self-defense and related statutes, many of which are referenced within 16-3-23.1 itself.”
Source: Official Code of Georgia Annotated