By Dave Workman
Professional doomsayers are having something of a field day, fomenting hysteria over recent passage in Florida of a law that allows citizens to defend themselves against criminal attack without first making an attempt to flee.
The Sunshine State’s so-called “stand-your-ground” law is not a novel concept, although it is hardly universal in the “land of the free and home of the brave.” In my home state of Washington – where our state constitution explicitly guarantees, “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired” – the state Supreme Court has twice affirmed in recent years that there is “no duty to retreat.”
The principle in both cases, known as State v. Studd (1999) and State v. Reynaldo Redmond (2003), is unambiguous. “The law is well settled,” said the court in the Redmond ruling, “that there is no duty to retreat when a person is assaulted in a place where he or she has a right to be.”
Obviously, the anti-self-defense crowd has a problem with this concept. Rather than support the right of any law-abiding citizen to defend himself or herself when attacked in any place where that citizen has a legitimate right to be, opponents of this law would rather appease criminals, thus encouraging recidivist behavior. That sort of run-and-hide submissiveness may be the vogue in the Beltway cocktail party circuit, but it doesn’t work very well in the real world, where predatory criminals will eagerly shoot, stab or club a victim to the ground from behind, once they have chased that person down. It only provides incentive for thugs to seek new victims who also will not fight back.
In their zeal to portray “stand-your-ground” as a philosophy of “Dirty Harry” wannabes, gun control groups and some misguided police officials are using the same tired, thoroughly discredited rhetoric about “Wild West gunfights” and “blood in the streets” that they employed when Florida, and more than two dozen other states, passed right-to-carry laws. Those predictions never came true, and they won’t now. Forecasts of murderous road rage or increased danger to children are products of the same fantasy world from which silver screen western shoot-‘em-ups sprouted.
Frankly, we all should want Florida’s streets to resemble neighborhoods in the Old West. A little research would explain why. Historians Richard Shenkman and W. Eugene Hollon have written about real violence in the frontier West, noting, for example, that in 1878 – the heyday of cattle drive boomtowns – Dodge City recorded just five homicides.
In a February 2004 essay, Colorado policy analyst Ryan McMaken, an internet columnist on lewrockwell.com, noted that “All the big cattle towns of Kansas combined saw a total of 45 murders during the period of 1870-1885. Dodge City alone saw 15 people die violently from 1876-1885, an average of 1.5 per year.” Compared to the landscape between Tallahassee and Miami, the real West was comatose. People actually left their doors unlocked.
Although citizens in Washington have no duty to retreat from a violent attack, it is also well established that this does not mean they have the latitude to thrust themselves unnecessarily in harm’s way. Responsible, legally-armed citizens are not a problem.
Our experience in Washington dates back generations. It’s certainly not spotless, but the Evergreen State is not awash in violence, either. Washington, which has had a right–to-carry statute for many years, also has one of the highest per-capita numbers of legally-licensed armed citizens. We’ve learned that right-to-carry and no-duty-to-retreat are compatible.
Instead of giving the hysterics a free pass to promote fear about Florida’s new law, perhaps the press should ask these people point blank, “What’s wrong with defending yourself from criminal attack in a place where you have a right to be? Why should people be vulnerable to lawsuits filed by criminals they shoot in self-defense? Why do you advocate what is essentially a surrender of public places to predatory thugs?”
Self-defense is not “taking the law into your own hands.” Rather, it is acting within the law in the face of imminent and unavoidable danger of grave bodily harm or death. Arguing otherwise, with unsustainable predictions of bloody lawlessness, will ultimately prove just how wrong the gun control extremists have been.