House Democrats Politicize Trayvon Martin

You can always tell when a political party is out of intellectual ammo. You can tell because it starts doing things like this:

House Democrats said Tuesday they will offer an amendment to push to overturn stand-your-ground self-defense laws in states like Florida.

Laws relating to self-defense are entirely a state concern. This is one of many areas where the federal government has no legitimate role.

The amendment, which would withhold some grants from states that have such laws, will come as part of the House’s debate on the Commerce Department spending bill.

I haven’t seen any report of what grants would be withheld from states that have stand-your-ground laws, or how such laws are defined in the Democrats’ amendment.

“‘Shoot-first’ laws have already cost too many lives. In Florida alone, deaths due to self-defense have tripled since the law was enacted. Federal money shouldn’t be spent supporting states with laws that endanger their own people,” said Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the two Democrats who are offering the legislation.

I would love to see the basis for Grijalva’s claim that “deaths due to self-defense have tripled since the law was enacted [in Florida].” I think there is zero chance that his claim is true. But I also am not sure I understand it: if deaths “due to self-defense” have risen, isn’t that a good thing? Don’t we want people to be able to defend themselves? Would Grijalva prefer it if the victims of violent attacks, rather than the perpetrators, are killed? Apparently so.

“This is no different than withholding transportation funds from states that don’t enforce seat-belt laws.”

Not really. Wearing seat belts has at least something to do with transportation. There are no federal gun grants.

Still unexplained is how Florida’s stand-your-ground law has anything to do with the Trayvon Martin case. (The Democrats’ proposal is called the “Trayvon Amendment.”) George Zimmerman claims that Martin knocked him down and was slamming his head into the pavement when he finally reached for his gun. If that is true, Zimmerman was acting in self-defense under any possible standard.

In this post, I set out Florida’s statutes relating to self-defense verbatim, with the provisions that could be relevant to the George Zimmerman prosecution in bold:

2011 Florida Statutes CHAPTER 776 JUSTIFIABLE USE OF FORCE

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—

A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or

(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.

776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.—

(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and

(b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.

(2) The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person; or

(b) The person or persons sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used; or

(c) The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or

(d) The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, residence, or vehicle in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a law enforcement officer.

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and 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 to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

(4) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.

(5) As used in this section, the term:

(a) “Dwelling” means a building or conveyance of any kind, including any attached porch, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed to be occupied by people lodging therein at night.

(b) “Residence” means a dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as an invited guest.

(c) “Vehicle” means a conveyance of any kind, whether or not motorized, which is designed to transport people or property.

776.032 Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.—

(1) A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer. As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.

(2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force as described in subsection (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.

(3) The court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant is immune from prosecution as provided in subsection (1).

776.041 Use of force by aggressor. —The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:

(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or

(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:

(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or

(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

If you can see anything wrong with those standards, or any reason why the federal government should try to change them, please explain why in the comments.

UPDATE: House Democrats announced today that they are withdrawing the “Trayvon Amendment,” for the time being at least.

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