Politicians and ordinary citizens alike have weighed in on the recent death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. But rhetoric aside, the fact remains that an American teenager was murdered last month — and faulty arms legislature is letting his killer go free.
George Zimmerman evaded arrest because of a law passed by the Florida legislature in 2005. The Stand Your Ground law stipulates that a person attacked in any place “has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so.”
Though there is nothing inherently wrong with expanding the right to self-defense, this law introduces a dangerous technicality into the investigation of those who commit gun crimes.
How do you contest someone’s “reasonable belief” that his life was in danger? How do you evaluate a shooting based on the mental state of the person involved?
Ambiguities inevitably arise in the American justice system, but it is the responsibility of lawmakers to reduce their occurrence as much as possible.
Martin’s death represents a call to legislators at the state and federal level to re-examine our laws involving self-defense and gun control.
In a press conference last week, President Barack Obama stated, “It is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together — federal, state and local.” He called specifically not only for an examination of the incident but an examination of the relevant laws as well.
Compared with much of the world, the United States has a fairly liberal gun policy. Many commentators justify these policies on the grounds of the Second Amendment, which grants all citizens the right to bear arms.
But at what point does this right infringe upon the even more fundamental right to life?
A study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993 shows that gun ownership acts as a risk factor for homicide in the home.
Countless news stories from the past several decades remind us of its more specific dangers: school shootings, fatal accidents involving young children and family member suicides.
And with many states allowing gun owners to carry their guns on their persons, a distinct class of trigger-happy vigilantes has emerged.
These laws lead to scenarios such as the Martin shooting, in which a gunshot somehow becomes the appropriate response to a minor altercation.
People have the right to defend themselves — but this right has a flip side.
One should be allowed to purchase a gun for protection, but strict and specific legislation is necessary to protect the unarmed among us.
Francesca Bessey is a freshman majoring in narrative studies.
Point/Counterpoint runs Fridays.
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