Go Ahead, Make My Day

21 June 2012

It’s been all over the news lately, from the Treyvon Martin case in Florida to the CU student right here in my town of Boulder — the now infamous ‘Stand Your Ground’ or ‘Make My Day’ law. Every news outlet and political pundit has chimed in on whether these laws are everything from legalized murder to what makes us ‘America’. However, these laws are not a hold over from the wild west or even an American ideal, in fact they are based on the Castle doctrine that goes back centuries.

Without going deep into the history books, Castle doctrine is based on the principal that one is allowed to protect themselves if their property is invaded, much like knights and lords defended their castles. While it seems it would be a straight forward concept to comprehend, actually codifying this concept into laws here in the United States has taken some time. In fact, it took until 1985 for Colorado to be the first state to pass this as an actual law.

Nonetheless, it has not even been as simple as just writing and passing the laws. While thirty-one states have Castle laws that allow the protection from harm on personal property, some states decided to take it a step further. Sixteen more states went beyond the concept of Castle doctrine and created laws that allow oneself to protect themselves from harm anywhere, these are publicized as the ‘stand your ground’ laws. It is because of this split where things begin to get blurry on where violence as self-defense should and should not be allowed.

The case here in Boulder seems a lot more clear cut than the one in Florida, but still begs the question of do we really need laws like this. The short version goes that a very drunk girl stumbled into a house and all the way through to the bedroom. There she encountered the homeowner who shot her in the hip before calling 911, thankfully not killing the girl. In the end the girl was charged with trespassing and the homeowner was not, because of the Castle law.

The law was followed perfectly here by the District Attorney (DA) in making sure the right person was charged, but it seems to leave a bad taste in your mouth. The girl was trashed, did the homeowner really need to shoot first and ask questions later? If you leave your front door unlocked by a college campus, aren’t you asking for this? If he had turned the lights on instead of grabbing his gun, could she have still been charged but not been shot? What if she would have died?

For me, it’s a matter of this law existing in the first place. In a country where we pride ourselves on making all crimes tried by a jury of our peers, why must the DA have the final say on charges that would be obvious under any other circumstances. Why not have them both be charged, the homeowner for assault, and if the jury decided he was in the right to defend himself then drop the charges. In fact, only three other countries (Israel, Italy and the UK) have this same law, and all but Israel’s requires that the person ‘standing their ground’ still be tried and found to have not needlessly attacked someone.

While these cases like these will be both politically charged and take years to resolve, I hope that this will shine some light on needless laws that do nothing to protect the innocent and only can cause even more harm to the guilty. While justice needs to be served, it should be done within the confines of a courtroom, and not by a trigger happy homeowner. We aren’t all Harry Callahan.

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