Nothing Says Self-Defense Like Letting Someone Else Decide When to Murder You

I know, it’s the Cornhole, but it’s actually trying to make an argument this time instead of just slavering over Mitt Romney’s jock:

Of course, any self-defense rule bears the potential for injustice. For example, in a two-person altercation, one may be dead and the other dubiously claims self-defense.

But these cases, like Trayvon Martin’s, implicate the self-defense justification generally. If George Zimmerman was the aggressor, he has no self-defense rights at all, whether the incident took place in a SYG jurisdiction or not. If Trayvon attacked Zimmerman, the only question is whether Zimmerman reasonably believed he was in danger, not whether he could’ve retreated. If Zimmerman provoked the confrontation, he lost the protections of SYG law.

Which is the exact two-person scenario you depicted in the previous paragraph. That’s the POINT. SYG laws are designed to give you the incentive to kill your attacker because hey, if nobody else is around to contradict you, you can claim whatever you like about what you thought was going to happen.

And the problem I have with the “perception of danger” idea is that stupid-ass racist people perceive danger at the shopping mall when they see two young black men walking out of a Gamestop, or they drive through a neighborhood that has a sign in Spanish. I can really, truly, deeply in my heart of hearts believe the kids walking home from Little League are about to murder me, because they’re carrying baseball bats. Does the law grant me the right to gun them down? If a jury of my middle-class white peers says yes, then it does.


In short, hard cases make for skewed policy debates — a demagogic dynamic with which Congress is well familiar after Sandy Hook. While anti-gun lobbyists have used both that tragedy and Trayvon Martin to pitch all sorts of legislation, what they really target is the right to self-defense. With SYG laws, yes, prosecutors need to show evidence to counter claims of self-defense, not simply argue that the shooter could’ve retreated. But for those who value due process — which should include historically mistreated minorities — that’s a feature, not a bug.

Yeah, I can see how people who are disproportionately victimized by what the powerful call “due process” should be grateful for that, given how wonderfully the justice system has always worked in their favor. Jesus H. Cirque du Soleil.


2 thoughts on “Nothing Says Self-Defense Like Letting Someone Else Decide When to Murder You

  1. I feel a completely rational mortal fear from Florida.
    So clearly they should be nuked to oblivion, and THEN we’ll review that whole SYG thing, m’kay?

  2. I hate the SYG laws, and I’m not familiar with their details, but I think a key word in the second paragraph posted is “reasonably” believed. If you have an irrational fear of black people, you may sincerely believe they are all threatening you, but your fear isn’t reasonable. That said, I agree that a fundamental flaw of the SYG laws is that it does give someone the incentive to kill the only other witness to the scene. And I’m not sure that provoking the confrontation means you can’t use the SYG defense anyway, if the person you provoked does something to make you feel your life is in danger. Another reason why those are bad laws.

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