Recently, many have begun calling for the repeal of stand-your-ground gun laws, attributing these laws to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in his trial for the murder of teenager Trayvon Martin.
Some have pointed to statistics sighting the tendency for these laws to benefit European Americans much more than African Americans.
For the last 8 years I’ve worked as a clinical social worker in the Philadelphia county prison. From my perspective, the stand-your-ground law that was passed a few years ago in PA, has overwhelmingly benefited individuals from low-income, high-violence communities in Philadelphia. I would also like to note, stand-your-ground laws are almost universally supported by the inmates I work with.
It used to be in Philadelphia, there was no claim to self defense. This meant that if someone, for whatever reason, tried to shoot you, as unfortunately sometimes happens (daily) in Philadelphia, if you did not posses a permit to carry fire arms and shot that person back, and killed them, you could be tried for murder, or manslaughter; in addition, you would get charged with use of a fire-arm without a license. The fact that one had no right to defend themselves affected disproportionately those from high-crime low-income neighborhoods, where young men were much more likely to encounter gun violence without the benefit of a gun permit.
This never seemed fair to me. I was seeing young people, sometimes weekly, going up state for 8, 16, 20 year to life sentences for the types of cases any reasonable person would consider self-defense.
But since stand-your-ground, i have been seeing these self-defense cases no longer picked up as homicides or manslaughter. If, after the investigation, a shooting is determined to be justified, individuals now face only the gun charge (if they did not have a permit.)
The story of Trayvon Martin is a clarion call to identify and deal with the injustices of 21st Century America. But before we throw stand-your-ground laws under the bus, let us examine the injustices the law has helped correct.