The shooting in Sanford, Fla., confirms the value of "stand your ground" laws. As information trickles out, we learn that the shooter, George Zimmerman, had lost track of Trayvon Martin during the course of his service with the gated community's neighborhood watch.
When on his way back to his truck, there are reports that Martin came from behind and slugged Zimmerman, dropping him to the ground. Then Martin, who was 6-foot-3, jumped on top of Zimmerman and began slamming his head into the sidewalk and pummeling his face, breaking his nose and fattening his lip. This was witnessed by a resident who lives in front of where the attack occurred.
With this set of facts, we are not even dealing with Florida's SYG law. That law says that if you are in fear of your life or great bodily harm you don't have to retreat. Zimmerman had no way to retreat. The grass stains on the back of his shirt would seem to corroborate that he was simply acting in defense of his life.
If anyone has wondered why the police did not arrest Zimmerman, it's because they were looking at his broken nose and bloody head wound--plus the eyewitness reports that he was the one being pummeled--as objective evidence that Martin was the aggressor.
Even though Zimmerman was part of the community neighborhood watch system, some have questioned why he "pursued" Martin. Did Zimmerman make any threatening acts toward Martin that then incited Martin to respond? Or was Zimmerman simply trying to determine the location of a potential perpetrator for the police? These are facts that are unclear right now, and it might take further investigation to ferret out these details.
But Americans must avoid a rush to judgment. Years ago, Richard Jewell was "convicted" by the media and the American public as being the 1996 Olympic bomber, when in fact he was the hero who spotted the bomb in the first place, saving many lives. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and Jewell was exonerated.
The SYG laws are an important tool in protecting the right of self-defense. Asking a potential victim to flee could expose his or her back to an assailant. And that could be very dangerous. Victims should be able to defend themselves before they have run out of options.
About Larry Pratt Executive Director of Gun Owners of America
Michael Zalewski Member of the Illinois House of Representatives
Dan Gross President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence